BRATTLEBORO -- The Public Service Board has agreed to use an expedited hearing process for a petition for a 2-megawatt solar project proposed for land along Interstate 91 in Brattleboro.
The Brattleboro Selectboard wanted at least one more public hearing on the plan, but Winstanley Enterprises, the company that is developing the solar installation, wanted the project to go ahead under the expedited 248(j) process, which limits additional hearings.
On Dec. 11, the Public Service Board agreed to consider the petition under the expedited hearing process.
"The Brattleboro Selectboard believed it was in the public interest to have a public hearing," Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said after the PSB's order was released Thursday. "That request was made to the Public Service Board, which had jurisdiction over the application. The Public Service Board has now decided to continue proceeding under subsection ‘j' without another hearing."
The town had no major objections to the project, and in fact largely supported it, but the board and the Planning Department wanted an open and transparent process for such a large development.
The Agency of Natural Resources, Agency of Agriculture and Department of Public Service all argued against the expedited process.
In a previous comment, the Department of Public Service said allowing the 2-megawatt project to be considered with limited hearings would have a "significant adverse impact on the state agencies' ability to conduct thorough review of such petitions, and in turn negatively impact the public interest."
Typically the 248(j) review is requested because it moves through the Public Service Board much quicker than the more complicated and time consuming 248(b) process. The 248 (J) process is usually approved for much smaller projects than the 2-megawatt project Winstanley wants to develop on land off of Technology Drive. The company has plans to install 8,300 solar panels on 1,040 posts across 15 acres the company owns along Interstate 91. It is by far the largest project the PSB has agreed to hear under the 248 (j) process.
The PSB denied a 248(j) request for a 500-kilowatt solar project in Middlebury earlier this year.
In its order the PSB said it made its determination was based on factors that were specific to the Brattleboro project, which included a lack of local opposition, the fact that just over eight acres of the 15-acre parcel were being used for the solar panels and the project's location between the interstate and an industrial area.
"The question of whether a particular project is of limited size and scope turns not only on the actual size of the project footprint, but also on considerations such as the size and appearance of the structures to be installed and the context into which these will be placed," the board wrote in the order. "A bright line rule based on project acreage or some other comparable attribute would create a false sense of clarity and predictability at the expense of exercising meaningful judgment and advised flexibility in assessing whether the size and scope of a given project may be considered limited based on its particular facts and context.
Representatives from Winstanley came before the Brattleboro Selectboard in July and the company asked the PSB to use the expedited process because it wanted to take advantage of tax credits that were expiring at the end of this year.
Winstanley will not make that deadline, and in its order the PSB took the company to task for actually slowing down the process by attempting to move the 248 (j) process forward without appropriately working with interested parties.
"Winstanley likely could have avoided some of the procedural delay it is experiencing in this case by conducting more outreach with the state agencies and others who were bound to take an interest in the case," the board wrote. "Winstanley at least would have known sooner and could have advised the board that there were objections to characterizing the project as one of limited size and scope."
A phone call to Winstanley Enterprises was not returned Thursday.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.