BRATTLEBORO -- The town wants to hold at least one more public hearing on a 2-megawatt solar project that developers want to build on land along Interstate 91.
Winstanley Enterprises, the company that owns the 15-acre parcel of land off of Technology Drive, wants to build the solar array which would include about 8,300 solar panels on 1,040 posts.
Winstanley has filed a request for a Certificate of Public Good with the Public Service Board
The company asked the Public Service Board to consider holding an expedited permitting process, which would not include public hearings.
The PSB granted that request on Sept. 20, but gave the town, and other interested parties, until Oct. 18 to submit comments and declare a level of involvement.
If the Certificate of Public Good is issued without a public hearing it would be the first time in Vermont a project of this size was approved under the state's expedited 248 (j) process.
At the Selectboard meeting Tuesday the board voted 4-1 to request a hearing, a move which will likely slow down the permitting process for Winstanley.
With the board's votes Tuesday, the decision to hold a public hearing is now up to the Public Service Board.
The company says it hopes to have the solar array working before Dec. 31 to take advantage of tax credits that expire at the end of the year.
Representatives from Winstanley attended a Selectboard meeting in July to talk about the project.
Selectboard member David Schoales voted against requesting a public hearing.
He said at the July meeting the public and the board expressed concerns about the aesthetic impact but supported the project and the company has since taken steps to limit the view of the project.
"The only concern is mitigating the visual effects, and I think that was summed up in the letter we wrote and I think that's enough," Schoales said. "Winstanley has shown themselves to be a good corporate citizens and the Public Service Board is not going to ignore what we say, whatever form we put it in. To get in the way of this process would be unnecessary. It meets a lot of our town goals and it would be a real benefit to the town."
Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein agreed that the town supports solar power, but he said town residents deserve to have a chance to comment on the plan.
"This is a massive commercial solar power development that would be totally visible on the highway and that I anticipate will be there for 35 or 40 years," Gartenstein said. "It seems to be that some addressing of the aesthetic impact is necessary in a public forum."
Before deciding that the town would request a hearing, Planning Director Rod Francis explained that the town had four options.
Francis said the town could choose not to respond, a choice that he said would be the cheapest and easiest way to go.
The Selectboard could also choose to file for interested person status which would give the town access to all the notices filed during the permit process, but would also limit the town's opportunity to comment and influence the PSB decision.
The town also has the authority to request a hearing, Francis said.
"It would formalize the town's expectation that public process for a project of this scale should involve a public hearing," Francis said. "Within reason we would expect that the public board that is going to award a Certificate of Public Good to an entity that expects to operate a facility of this size, for 40 years, at a profit, that part of the process would involve a public hearing."
The final option, Francis said, would be for the town to request to be an intervenor, which would give the town complete involvement in the permitting process, and would require that the PSB consider the town's concerns.
That option would be the most expensive, and probably brings the town much deeper into the process than the board is really interested to go, said Francis.
Francis told the board that the Agency of Natural Resources and the Public Service Department might both request the PSB to hold a hearing as well.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext. 279 or email@example.com. Follow Howard @HowardReformer.