Power Play

A 21st-century approach to development

by Elizabeth Bassett

chad farrellChad Farrell’s 5-year-old Burlington business, Encore Redevelopment, cultivates creative solutions to compromised land.

“I was the kid in the neighborhood who delivered newspapers, painted houses, and ran a lawn service,” says Chad Farrell. “I think I’ve always been a capitalist and an environmentalist at heart.”

Indeed, today, as founder and principal of Encore Redevelopment in Burlington, he is both. His 5-year-old company develops, finances, permits, and manages community-scale renewable-energy projects, preferably on brownfields or other compromised land. Rooftops work well for projects, too.

“Our goal is a triple bottom line,” Farrell says, “a fixed, levelized cost of electricity, lease payments to the landowner, and locally produced, carbon-free energy.”

Encore Redevelopment has fostered many area projects. Two Burlington schools — C.P. Smith Elementary and Burlington High School — sport roof-mounted solar PV (photovoltaic) panels. Burlington Electric Department (BED) has a power-purchase agreement with Encore, and the Burlington School Department receives lease payments. Encore Redevelopment owns the solar arrays and is able to take advantage of financial incentives not useful to a municipal entity.

“On hot summer days when everyone cranks up the air conditioning, utilities must buy power on the expensive spot market,” Farrell explains. “On these same days solar panels produce peak power, minimizing BED’s purchases.”

Encore Redevelopment designed, sited, permitted, and managed the installation of a 100kW wind turbine at the Northland Job Corps campus in Vergennes for Green Mountain Power in collaboration with Northern Power Systems.

“Green Mountain Power was looking to add community-scale wind projects to its renewable portfolio as part of its effort to decentralize power generation,” says Robert Dostis, its director of public affairs. “We turned to Encore Redevelopment for assistance.”

“Encore orchestrated community outreach, site selection, permitting, Public Service Board process for a Certificate of Public Good, and finally management of the project,” Dostis says. The Vermont-made turbine is owned and operated by Green Mountain Power. Northland Job Corps receives 10 percent of the energy generated in exchange for hosting it.

A native of Acton, Mass., Farrell earned a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Bucknell University in 1992. After graduation he worked as an environmental engineer for Environmental Science Services, a Boston area start-up.

“I enjoyed my work but realized I wanted a better grounding in environmental engineering” he says. “I applied to a number of graduate schools, and the University of Vermont offered the best program, financial package, and access to professors.”

“I was able to do an academic deep dive into hydrogeology and groundwater contamination,” says Farrell. “The research was well funded by the departments of Energy and Defense and we addressed contamination at several federal sites.”

“Chad was part of a great team of students interested in environmentalism,” says Nancy Hayden, associate professor at the UVM College of Engineering and Mathematics. “Our program is small and rigorous with lots of faculty involvement. In that interactive environment students worked collaboratively and learned from each other,” Hayden says. “We worked on alcohol flushing of chlorinated solvents, from mom-and-pop dry cleaners to mile-long plumes at Department of Defense sites. This was foundational work in ground and groundwater contamination.”

In 1998 Farrell received his master of science in environmental engineering and joined ATC Associates in Richmond. In 2000, he moved to The Johnson Co. in Montpelier doing assessment and remediation as an environmental engineer.

“The Johnson Co. worked nationally and internationally, applying United States practices — the most advanced in the world — to multinational corporations,” Farrell says. “We helped companies with both U.S. and foreign presences to perform environmental due diligence, to understand the liability of acquisitions.”

“In the 1950s and 1960s no one understood the environmental and human health costs of disposing of toxic products,” Farrell says. “Many industries — dry cleaning, machine tool producers, makers of semiconductors — routinely dumped waste into drywells and underground piping via floor drains. They had no idea of the damage their practices would cause.”

At The Johnson Co., he developed protocols for brownfield redevelopment. “From concept to completion we worked to return brownfields to productive use,” he says. He also worked on the remediation plan for cleanup of Burlington’s Pine Street Barge Canal.

In 2006 he joined Black Point, a Boston real estate developer, working remotely from Burlington. “I had responsibility for all steps of a project: planning, scheduling, critical path, control of the project, high-level pro formas. This was a great learning opportunity, laying the foundation for owning my own business.”

Farrell always enjoyed his jobs, he says, “but I was yearning to work for myself. In 2007, I thought, ‘This is the moment.’ I was going through a divorce, and starting a business was a good outlet for me, consuming my extra energy and free time.”

In August of 2007, he founded Encore Redevelopment. In the first year he consulted for Avery Dennison, then a Fortune 100 manufacturer of adhesive products. “I helped support a large merger and acquisition that involved assessing over 50 properties around the world and quantifying the environmental liabilities.”

As the economy spiraled downhill, Farrell noted an interesting development in renewable energy. “In 2009 Vermont became the first state in the country to create the Standard Offer Program to encourage use of renewable energy,” Farrell says. “I decided to educate myself in the design, permitting, and financing of renewable energy projects,” Farrell says. “You can’t sell what you don’t know.”

The focus of his company has shifted with the times, he says. “Our work today increasingly involves community-scale renewable energy projects that may include solar, wind, biomass, or hydropower. Many of our projects seek to involve brownfields, putting formerly contaminated and unproductive sites back into productive use.”

Middlebury’s Acorn Energy Cooperative worked with Encore to locate a 149kW ground-mounted solar PV array on a municipally owned brownfield — a former wastewater treatment site. Co-op members, whose homes may not be well sited for solar, buy into the electrical output via net metering. The electricity generated by the PV panels flows into the grid and participants receive credit on their utility bills.

Gardeners Supply founder Will Raap turned to Encore to place a 150kW solar PV array at South Village in South Burlington, Vermont’s first group net metering project.

“Vermont will have a strong local economy when we produce our own food and energy,” Raap says. The electricity powers the organic CSA farming operation on-site and additional output is currently sold to the city of South Burlington. Its streetlights and sewer pump stations are powered with below-market-cost electricity.

Farrell joined the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, meeting others who shared his passions. “I believe in supporting young Vermonters with brain power,” Farrell says.

In 2009 he hired three interns from area schools. “They got paid a modest amount and learned office culture. They helped the business to develop its website, branding, protocols, and a ‘script base,’ the goal of which is to develop a plan or script that can be replicated for subsequent projects.”

One former intern, Collin Ackerman, remains a part-time project manager, working from Washington, D.C. Ackerman stays abreast of legislative developments and is working on a solar PV project for Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn.

Derek Moretz, vice president of development, arrived in 2012 via a straight-line career trajectory and circuitous geographic path. A native of the hills of North Carolina that, he says, “feel a lot like Vermont,” Moretz received a degree in construction management with a focus on renewable technologies from Appalachian State University.

He worked on utility wind projects in Latin America before returning to North Carolina State University for an MBA in finance from the Jenkins School of Management. Most recently, he worked in San Francisco for NaturEner, a global renewable energy development company, where he was responsible for large-scale wind projects. Explaining his recent cross-country move Moretz says, “I chased my high school sweetheart to Roxbury, Vt. So far so good.” They plan to marry next summer.

Marriage features on Farrell’s agenda as well. In late September he married Jessica Sankey, who recently retired to become a full-time mother to their 18-month-old daughter, Maeve. An environmental educator, Sankey worked at Chittenden Solid Waste District.

“Jessica did educational outreach in local schools. If your kids did ‘Trash on the Lawn Days’ or compost workshops, they know Jessica’s work.” They live in Queen City Park in South Burlington, “a good long walk to work,” says Farrell.

Workspaces ring Encore’s airy office with big windows overlooking Main Street. Farrell notes that the layout, based on the Google bullpen model, reflects his approach to projects. “Our separate work spaces face out, creating a sense of private space and yet when we turn around there is a central table, a meeting space, where we can collaborate.”

The company frames its business today as providing a low-risk investment/long-term stable energy costs. “Working with our investors we can provide this benefit to communities, municipalities, and nonprofits.”

“Chad has made a real path for himself,” says Hayden of UVM. “I love it when our students stay in the area and start innovative businesses.” •