Tracking the Sun - Starksboro goes solar with high tech array

STARKSBORO - The Town of Starksboro and Robinson Elementary School have taken steps to keep the lid on increasing energy costs by installing a total of 25 solar panels to capture the sun's energy and turn it into electricity to power their facilities.

The solar array, which went on-line October 1st, was the result of an agreement with AllEarth Renewables of Hinesburg. AllEarth approached the Selectboard with a five-year power purchase proposal wherein they would install the panels and the town would agree to purchase the power at a fixed rate that is slightly lower rate than Green Mountain Power's rate. "That should be a good deal," said Selectboard Chair Susan Jefferies, who, like many people, expects electric rates to rise over the years. They are hoping that being locked in at a low rate will benefit the town's bottom line.

At the end of the 5 year term, the town and the school have will several options: they can choose to cancel completely and have AllEarth remove the panels; they can renew with another five years contract; or they can complete an outright purchase for 30 percent of the original cost of the array.

The panels are quite high tech. They are mounted on poles and have built-in tracking devices that track the sun as it moves across the sky. At sundown, the tracker goes into a "resting" horizontal position. If it snows at night, which is a sure thing in Starksboro, the tracker will "wake up" in the morning and tilt to the sun, causing most of the snow that has collected on them to slide off. Any remaining snow will melt as the panels heat up during the day.

According to AllEarth's website, the trackers work well, even in cold, gloomy Vermont weather, and they will still generate some electricity on cloudy days because they position themselves to capture ambient sunlight. Even wind is no match for these smart panels because they have anemometers that prompt them to lay flat -like an animal would hunker down - during high, potentially damaging, winds.

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