Friday July 12, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- The town is supportive of a proposed two megawatt solar array that developers want to put up on land along Interstate 91, though town officials want the company to consider the aesthetic impact of the project.

Winstanley Enterprises is going to petition the Public Service Board for a Certificate of Public Good for the solar array, which could include up to 8,300 solar panels.

As part of the Act 248 process the town gets to file its comments with the company before the petition goes in to the PSB, and those comments are going to be sent to Winstanley before the July 12 deadline. The company will then include the town's comments as a part of its petition to the PSB.

Winstanley is expected to petition the PSB on July 18 and the town was required to file its comments seven days before the application is sent in.

"There were some concerns but we wanted to show that the vast majority of comments we received were positive," Brattleboro Planning Director Rod Francis said. "This project conforms with the Town Plan and it is an appropriate use in that zoning district."

According to a letter Francis sent to Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland the project conforms with the Town Plan's goals to reduce carbon emissions in Brattleboro to 30 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 and to increase locally-generated electricity from renewable sources to 10 percent of Brattleboro's total electricity consumption by 2030.

The project also meets the Town Plan's goal of promoting use of renewable energy in institutional, commercial and residential settings, Francis wrote. The energy project is also a conditional use in the North End Recreational zoning district where is it proposed to be developed.

At its July 8 meeting the Planning Commission formally gathered all of the public comments that the town had received.

Those included comments from the town's Conservation Committee, Energy Committee and Agriculture Committee, and from a handful of citizens.

The comments were largely supportive of the project though a variety of issues were raised concerning aesthetic impact, decommissioning responsibilities and the potential of sharing the land with future agricultural activities. The comments the Planning Commission gathered also included notes from the July 2 meeting where some citizens came out to support the plan.

"The majority of comments received are positive towards the project," Planning Commission Chairman James Valente wrote to Winstanley Enterprises founder Adam Winstanley. "The Planning Commission has compiled these comments and asks that you consider what (if any) strategies can be employed to mitigate visual impact from the proposed site while giving due regard to the affirmative remarks offered."

Francis says it will up to the Selectboard to decide how much more involved it wishes to be in the CPG process.

As the municipality where the project is located the town will be a party in the hearings and will receive all correspondences issued by the PSB concerning the project. The town has an option of sitting in on the hearings and/or filing further documents, but Francis said the comments filed this week clearly show that the town is not opposed to the development.

"The way things are going I don't think the Selectboard is going to take a more active role at this point," Francis said. "Our comments establish that this project conforms with the Town Plan. The public has had a chance to weigh in and the comments have been, on balance, very positive."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.