Burlington, VT – Today, a unique and wide-reaching group of partners officially energized the new and innovative UVM Solar Research and Training Facility located at the McNeil Generating Station. The facility is the culmination of a multi-year partnership among the City of Burlington, the McNeil Joint Owners, the University of Vermont (UVM), and Encore Renewable Energy. Representatives of those partners were joined at today’s announcement by Mayor Miro Weinberger, Senator Bernie Sanders, and representatives of VGS. The solar array, permitted for up to 50 kilowatts (kW) of solar panels, was built by Encore for UVM at the McNeil site with critical support from VGS to allow for shared infrastructure at the project site. The equipment for the facility was donated by the federal government with the assistance of Sen. Sanders, who also directed $150,000 in Congressional funding to the U.S. Department of Energy to help make the project a reality.
“To achieve our ambitious goal of Net Zero Energy by 2030, we need our whole community and every level of government working together on innovative climate solutions,” said Mayor Weinberger. “This exciting new project – a collaboration among higher education, public and private utilities, and a solar developer with support from local and federal government – is an excellent example of the type of partnership, creativity, and leadership that allows us to forge meaningful progress on climate.”
“With its very real and devastating impact on our communities today, including the terrible flooding we saw in Vermont this summer, and the existential threat it poses to our future generations, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the issue of climate change,” said Sen. Sanders. “But we cannot give in to despair. And today I am glad to be able to mark some good news: The establishment of a solar research and training facility that will provide research and training opportunities to Vermont’s students, faculty, and solar workforce, while putting Vermont on the cutting edge of researching, testing, and deploying solar energy. I was proud to secure $150,000 in federal funding to help this project become a reality. I look forward to seeing the advancements that come out of this new facility that will help create good-paying jobs, make our energy grid more resilient, and save families and communities money as we transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.”
The McNeil Joint Owners are providing the use of the property through a five-year agreement with a renewal opportunity in return for the energy produced by the solar array. BED will purchase all the energy produced at the solar facility from the other Joint Owners. Notably, the Joint Owners have placed no production level requirements on the array, allowing UVM to prioritize research and educational benefits over solar production economics.
“The McNeil Generating Station not only provides an important renewable and reliable source of electric generation, but also can serve our community as an energy innovation hub, and today we take a tangible step toward that vision by energizing the new solar research and training facility,” said Darren Springer, General Manager, Burlington Electric Department. “In the future, we hope to build on this progress by adding a district energy system and exploring additional opportunities to utilize the plant. I would like to thank all the partners who made this happen, including Senator Sanders, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office, UVM, the McNeil Joint Owners, Encore Renewable Energy, and VGS.”
UVM intends to utilize its solar facility to accomplish the following goals, some of which may unlock additional funding for more research:
- Leveraging this core research facility for ongoing, meaningful, sustained renewable energy research in partnership with federal, state, and local funders and stakeholders;
- Taking advantage of the outstanding research and workforce development opportunities for UVM undergraduate and graduate students; and
- Fostering an ongoing relationship with BED to partner on further research and development opportunities in this critically important industry.
“Our research and education related to sustainability and renewable energy rank among the most important work we do,” said UVM President Suresh Garimella. “I am thankful for the determination and focused work our partners McNeil Joint Owners and Encore Renewable Energy, together with the support of Mayor Weinberger and the City of Burlington and Congressional funding by Senator Sanders’ that allowed us to relocate this array to the McNeil Generating Station. This new core renewable energy research facility will provide exciting opportunities for faculty and student research, and workforce development opportunities for years to come.”
Third-year UVM student Emily Ninestein, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and serves as president of the student chapter of the Green Mountain Section of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), participated in today’s announcement, sharing that she has conducted two semesters of undergraduate research on photovoltaic (PV) hosting capacity and residential demand modeling. Ms. Ninestein said, “As a UVM undergraduate student and researcher in electrical engineering and energy systems, I’m incredibly excited about the launch of the UVM Solar Research and Training Facility at McNeil. The hands-on experience that the facility will provide is already generating excitement about renewable energy technology among my classmates, and I am sure that it will enhance the classroom experience for us and students to come.”
Encore Renewable Energy was responsible for project planning, design, permitting, and construction of the new solar facility. “Our industry is poised for exponential growth over the coming years, fueled by the Inflation Reduction Act, and we now have a once in a generation opportunity to realize the clean energy transition,” said Chad Farrell, Founder and co-CEO, Encore Renewable Energy. “Meeting this moment will require innovation, collaboration, and a new workforce ready to deploy solar and clean energy technologies at scale. This new research and training facility will provide the next generation of clean energy professionals currently studying at UVM with a unique opportunity to prepare to work in the clean energy economy.”