By Patrick O’Grady
Valley News Correspondent
Thursday, August 10, 2017
Windsor — The Selectboard wants to learn more about three proposed solar projects on private property in Windsor before it signs Planning Commission letters in support of them as “preferred sites” under a new state law on energy siting passed in 2016.
Zoning Administrator Bob Haight said on Wednesday that the board did not say it opposed the projects when it delayed a decision on signing such letters at its meeting Tuesday night.
The Selectboard said they “need more information. Let’s get the process right and figure out how to implement (Act) 174 pieces,” Haight said. “Given that this was the first time they were looking at it, they said ‘let’s table this until we can get more information on this preferred site concept.’ I think they want a little more familiarity with the sites.”
Under Act 174, the Energy Development Improvement Act related to siting of energy projects, municipalities and regional planning commissions have a more influential voice in the appropriateness of solar projects, and local support can enhance chances for approval at the state level.
Haight said under the law, a preferred site usually has “no greater and better use” than for energy production and would include so-called “brownfields” with some level of contamination; closed landfills; old industrial areas and closed gravel pits.
The proposed solar sites under discussion include the former Cone-Blanchard property between Route 5 and the Connecticut River in downtown Windsor; a spot next to an active gravel pit on Route 5; and open land on Juniper Hill.
The Windsor Planning Commission has held public meetings on the proposals.
Green Lantern Capital, of Waterbury, Vt., is proposing a 500kw array on about four acres next to an active gravel pit owned by Miller Construction on Route 5.
The Planning Commission drafted a letter to the Vermont Public Utilities Commission stating it had reviewed the plans and supported the location as a “preferred site” under net metering rules.
Ralph Meima, director of project development at Green Lantern, said the parcel on the Weathersfield town line is part of the gravel pit property but is currently leased to a farmer and is between Route 5 and Interstate 91 with frontage on Back Mountain Road, and has a transmission line running through it.
Meima said he is confident the Selectboard will support the projects but because the solar siting legislation is relatively new, he understands the need for further discussion.
“We are all working out the kinks on how (Act 174) works, including net metering,” Meima said. “We just need to be patient and we can work out the differences.”
Net metering allows renewable energy producers to receive a credit on their bills for energy they generate in excess of what they use.
The Windsor Planning Commission would present a similar letter for the other solar locations proposed by Norwich Solar if the Selectboard and regional planning commission agrees to the wording.
Haight said the Selectboard would not be signaling its approval of the projects with respect to compliance with Vermont law, only stating they are the type of sites worthy of consideration, assuming they would not have any adverse impacts.
The Selectboard’s support is not a requirement but Town Manager Tom Marsh said it “can strengthen” chances for approval from the state’s Public Utilities Commission.
“It sends a message from the town’s perspective, these are preferred,” Marsh said.
Marsh said the Selectboard plans to make site visits to each location to learn more about the projects.
Opposition in 2015 from Windsor residents prompted Green Mountain Power and state officials to drop a plan to install 19,000 solar panels on 35 acres of former prison farmland near the Southeast State Correctional Facility in Windsor.
The residents said the panels in the scenic rural area would be an eyesore and also could affect the nesting of grassland birds.
The Norwich Solar projects now under consideration are at the former Cone-Blanchard property, with three separate arrays including one on the roof of the buildings, and near the intersection of Juniper Hill and County Road.
Joel Stettenheim, president of Norwich Solar, said his company has received unanimous support for its proposal at the former Cone Blanchard property, now part of the Windsor Technology Park, and tentative support for Juniper Hill from the Planning Commission and he understands the Selectboard’s approach.
“The Planning Commission has had a chance to review the proposals for months and how they meet the town plan’s objectives, and now the Selectboard has to come up to speed,” Stettenheim said. “It is appropriate for the board to be sure it understands the projects.”
Stettenheim said two of the arrays at the Cone-Blanchard site are net metered, as is the one on Juniper Hill. READ MORE
Patrick O’Grady can be reached at email@example.com.
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