Middlebury College launched a new solar panel project in October 2021 on South Street Extension in a partnership with Green Mountain Power and Encore Renewables. Construction on the project was intended to be completed by the end of 2022. Despite this initial deadline, installation has just started off of South Street Extension with an unknown energy production date, possibly in summer 2023.
Location selection for the solar array was controversial, The Campus reported in fall 2021, and some residents who own land abutting the project site expressed disappointment about the selection process.
After the location for the solar panels was determined and cleared by the town, the project still required extensive planning before construction could begin. This required collaboration between Encore Renewables, the head contractor for construction on the project, Green Mountain Power (GMP), which provides transformational energy to 75% of Vermont, the college and the town, according to the GMP website.
“Construction is in process now. Racks (equipment that solar arrays are mounted on) are being installed now,” Mike Moser, director of Facilities Services, wrote in an email to The Campus. After the racks are installed by Encore, the actual solar array will be put in and connected to the grid by Green Mountain Power.
Moser projected that once everything is built and connected to the power grid, the 30-acre, five-megawatt project will generate approximately 40% of the college’s annual energy.
“Everything really gets built on-site. The steel gets shipped in, the panels get shipped in,” Matthew Curran, director of Business Services, told The Campus. Curran said they faced supply chain issues that created problems, but those issues have since been resolved and the project is now in full motion. Construction of the site is ongoing and Green Mountain Power is working to make sure the infrastructure in place will support the solar array.
In addition to the 30 acres for the solar panel array, the college plans to transform the remaining land on South Street Extension into a new hiking trail.
The South Street Solar Project committee of the college’s Environmental Council has been tasked with creating the trail around the solar field to mitigate environmental impact, increase educational opportunities and provide a community-oriented space. Council members Jasper Pearcy ’26, Peter Mans ’26, Bella Lucente ’25 and Facilities Services staff member Jim Zieger met with The Campus to discuss their involvement in the solar array and what they hope to come of the project.
“Our job is to make the most of the land around the solar site,” Mans said. “The decision to put the solar site there was completely separate from us. But given that, [we consider] what can we do with the surrounding area to have increased community and student engagement, and general interest in the site and the work that the college is doing.”
The committee has been working with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB), the engineering firm hired by Encore to design the solar site, in order to plan and design the trail.
“There are other solar sites up and down Route 7 that Encore has been managing and they’ve used VHB as their engineering firm,” Zieger said. “There are other trails up around Burlington that they have designed for municipalities and have worked with Encore to plan those.”
With the help of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin’s technology, the committee has used satellite imagery to lay out maps of the trail that will be a loop about a mile long. They plan for the trail to eventually connect to the Trail Around Middlebury (TAM) in order to bring in more community engagement.
While the solar array fulfills the renewable energy goals of the college, it also serves educational purposes, both Curran and the committee told The Campus. One of the goals of the college’s Energy2028 mission is a “Commitment to Educational Opportunities,” so while the solar array will be fulfilling the renewable energy goals of the college, it also serves this purpose.
There may also be possibilities for outdoor classrooms, exercise areas and lookouts to both the Greens and the Adirondacks on the land, all of which are in the early planning stages. In addition to the trail around the solar field, the committee hopes that there will be signage explaining both the energy service that the solar site provides and the land’s history.
“We are hoping to talk to the Abenaki Language Program to put some information about the history of the land [on the signs],” Zieger said. “We’re looking for some farming history of the land and what the conversion was from the lands that it originally was when it was wetlands.”
Additionally, the committee has reached out to both Eddy Farm to see if they have interest in making the trails equestrian-friendly and Eastview at Middlebury, a Senior Retirement Community adjacent to the land, to consider what their community members would like to see on the trail as neighbors.
The chance to plant pollinator gardens within the solar array and on the trail is another environmental interest of the committee. “One thing that is going to come later but that we’re still pushing for is involvement with Bee the Change, which is an organization that promotes bee populations and native pollinator species and their habitats,” Lucente said. On its website, Bee the Change states that it has fields in 45 towns and has created a habitat equivalent to every Vermont household making a 10’ x 10’ pollinator garden.
The committee is working with the college’s Office of Advancement to secure funding for the trail, and is currently awaiting news on the status of funding.
Once built, both the solar array and the surrounding trail surrounding will be a chance for the college and the greater Middlebury community to collaborate on sustainable energy planning and recreation.
Anyone with input for the Solar Project Committee of the Environmental Council can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.