Brattleboro still waiting on solar decision


BRATTLEBORO -- The Public Service Board has extended the comment period on a proposed 2-megawatt solar array proposed for land along Interstate 91 in Brattleboro.

But the town is still waiting to see if the PSB is going to allow a public hearing on the massive solar project.

The Selectboard wants a public hearing on the proposal by Winstanley Enterprises to install about 8,300 solar panels on 1,040 posts on land Winstanley owns off of Technology Drive.

Winstanley applied for a Certificate of Public Good from the PSB and asked that the application be considered under the 248(j) process which expedites the permitting comment period and limits the public input opportunities.

After Winstanley put in its application the PSB set a deadline of Oct. 18 for the interested parties to comment on the application.

After the town asked for the public hearing the PSB extended the comment deadline 10 days saying it would wait until Oct. 28 to receive comments on the plan.

If a public hearing is allowed, Brattleboro Planning Director Rod Francis said the town will probably hear before the end of this week.

"I assume that if they are gong to have a public hearing then we will hear something before the 28th," said Francis. "Something has to happen this week."

Under Vermont's Section 248 energy project permitting process, applicants are allowed to ask for the expedited decision but the special 248 (j) permit typically goes to smaller, or less complicated projects.

This summer the applicant for a 500 megawatt solar project in Middlebury was denied the 248 (j) permit because the PSB said the public should have a chance to comment.

If the 248(j) permit is given to the Winstanley project it will be, by far, the largest energy project that received the expedited permit.

The 248(j) process only allows for a 45-day period to comment on the project, which may or may not allow for a public hearing.

The process does not set a time limit on the PSB decision.

Francis said the Agency of Agriculture and the Department of Public Service have filed comments on the proposed solar project, indicating that they too would like to be part of a public hearing.

The Brattleboro Selectboard, the Planning Commission and the public have all been largely supportive of the project.

There have been some comments made about the aesthetic impact of having more than 8,000 solar panels along the major highway into Vermont, but others have said the solar array should be highlighted and not hidden, to showcase Vermont's commitment to renewable energy.

"The Selectboard voted 4-1 in favor of requesting an open public process for consideration of this substantial solar facility," Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said. "We have sent a letter to the Public Service Board indicating that this is what we want."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer


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