BRATTLEBORO -- The company that wants to build a 2-megawatt solar array on land near Interstate 91 is asking the Public Service Board to approve an expedited decision process that would not include any public hearings.
Winstanley Enterprises, the company that owns the land on Technology Drive in Brattleboro, put its application in to the PSB asking that the petition be considered under section (j) of Vermont's 248 permitting process. If the PSB agrees to let the project go ahead under section (j) then the town, land abutters and interested parties would be able to send in comments, but there would be no formal hearings held.
Winstanley Enterprises did not answer calls for comments Wednesday.
In a letter to the PSB, attorneys representing Winstanley said the project should be considered for the shortened permitting process because at 2 megawatts it should be considered as a small renewable energy plant for which the Vermont Legislature has created a simplified process. Winstanley also says the solar array is "of limited size and scope," and that the public interest has been satisfied with the procedures authorized by the law.
The company says it has worked with the Agency of Natural Resources and no wetland permits are needed and there are no threats to wildlife habitats or endangered species.
"The project satisfies the public interest, and has generated much support at the local level," Downs Rachlin Martin Attorney Kimberly Hayden wrote to the PSB. "The project will help the state of Vermont and the town of Brattleboro meet its renewable energy goals. The public interest is furthered by a more efficient processing of this petition through a section 248(j) review."
Windham Regional Commission Energy Planner Cullen Meves said if the PSB approves the request it would be the first time a large-scale energy project was approved for an expedited hearing process under the 248 permitting process.
"They are asking for a truncated process where there is a 45-day review process and they don't have to go through a hearing," said Meves. "It's much faster than a typical process which can take much longer."
Winstanley wants to install about 8,300 solar panels on 1,040 posts in a 15-acre parcel along the highway.
If the solar array is installed it would be one of the largest solar arrays in the state.
Winstanley representatives previously came before the Selectboard to ask the board to waive the 45 day prefile comment period. The board did not waive the prefile comment period but comments from the Selectboard, the Planning Commission, the Energy Committee and the general public were all generally positive and in support of the solar project.
If the PSB approves the request for a shortened hearing process, then the board would take up the petition for the Certificate of Public Good, which Winstanley needs before starting construction at the site.
Winstanley sent its request in on Aug. 19 and the PSB has to make a decision within three to five weeks.
According to Meves the town can still comment on the proposal, but not within the scope of hearings.
"You can still provide input, there's just a shorter time period, and there's not as much of an evidentiary process," she said. "There's no hearing. There's no testimony given. They just rely on the evidence that's included with the application."
Meves said the Windham Regional Commission has already commented on the project and would not be offering any further testimony.
She said the commission's Project Review Committee wanted more information on the fencing that will be installed along the Interstate, and the committee was satisfied with the information it received from Winstanley.
The company says it will take about 90 days to construct the solar array. Winstanley hopes to complete construction and begin operations before Dec. 31 to take advantage of tax benefits.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.