Selectboard hears 'substantial support' on solar project proposal
BRATTLEBORO -- Brattleboro Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said he wanted to hear from the public before deciding how the town should proceed in its deliberations over a proposed industrial solar energy project planned for Brattleboro.
At the board's meeting Tuesday night Gartenstein heard from supporters who said the board should back the project.
About a half dozen people showed up to the meeting to tell the board that the proposed site along Interstate 91 near the Holiday Inn Express was a perfect location for the solar array, which could eventually include more than 8,000 solar panels.
At the last Selectboard meeting Gartenstein said he had concerns about the project greeting visitors to Vermont, and about the impact on the viewshed.
Supporters said that not only was the project appropriate for Brattleboro and for Vermont, but the array should be highlighted and not hidden.
"I think we should remove the berm," Jed Leslie said about the land mass that was built to hide the former Northeast Cooperatives building. "I want to see it. I think it is an aesthetic improvement."
Winstanley Enterprises, the company that owns the building and the approximately 14 acres off of Technology Drive, wants to build a two megawatt solar installation.
At Tuesday's meeting Joel Lindsay, project manager from Weston Solutions, the company that will be installing the solar array, said the panels will produce energy which will provide the equivalent of about 8 percent of Brattleboro's residential power in the course of a full year.
On sunny days the panels will produce about 40 percent of the energy needed to power the town's residential buildings.
Lindsay said the project will cost between $5 and $6 million.
If Winstanley gets its permit and builds the solar array it will ultimately be one of the largest in Vermont.
The company is seeking a Certificate of Public Good from the Public Service Board under the Vermont Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development (SPEED) program.
The SPEED program was created by the Legislature in 2005 to promote in state renewable energy, and amended in 2009 to support larger projects up to 2.2 MW.
Under the PSB permitting process the town, as the municipality where the proposed project is located, gets to enter comments with the board before Winstanley formally files for its permit, which it is expected to do on July 18.
Since the Selectboard's last meeting, there have been a number of opinions offered to the board on the issue.
The Brattleboro Agricultural Advisory Committee discussed the proposed project on July 1 and expressed support for using the agriculturally rich land there for the panels.
The Agricultural Advisory Committee did ask the Selectboard to recommend that a decommissioning plan be required for the property.
And the Brattleboro Energy Coordinator, Paul Cameron, in a letter to the board, said he expressed "Strong support for the proposed solar project."
But longtime Brattleboro resident and co-owner of Sam's Outdoor Outfitters Stanley "Pal" Borofsky, who also is an alternate member of the Vermont Environmental Commission, said he was concerned and the project needed, "proper planning and scrutiny."
Borofsky said that while he was concerned about the creation of natural energy, similar projects in northern Vermont have been criticized.
"In my mind as a life long Vermonter I am very concerned about the rural nature of Vermont," Borofsky wrote in a letter to the Selectboard. "This project, I believe, needs thoughts that go beyond the thinking that has taken place in the northern solar projects."
At the Tuesday Selectboard meeting a number of citizens said they supported solar power, saying that not only would the Interstate 91 site be perfect, but that it would be an appropriate way to welcome visitors to the state.
Following the comment period Tuesday Gartenstein said there seemed to be "substantial support" for the massive solar project, and now the town is going to collect its comments, support and concerns and file them with the PSB.
Brattleboro Planning Director Rod Francis, in an interview after Tuesday night's meeting, said the town still has decisions to make.
The town's pre-file comments must be sent in to the PSB before July 12.
And the town must decide just how involved it wishes to be during the hearing, with the PSB offering three levels of engagement as a formal party in the hearing.
Francis said that with the apparent strong support for the project among the board and town, the Selectboard might only offer its pre-file comments, including its concerns on aesthetics, and then allow the PSB hearing to proceed without further input, though he said that would be a decision for the Selectboard.
"The Selectboard had this project on its last agenda precisely to gauge the degree of public support and concern for the project," Francis said Friday afternoon. "It was overwhelmingly supportive and now the board has to decide its next step."
Under the Section 248 rules, which govern the permitting process, the PSB will do a site visit and hold a public hearing before ruling on the project.
The public comments do not become part of the evidentiary record, the PSB Citizen's Guide says, but the public comments do "Play an important role by raising new issues or offering perspectives that the board should consider and ask parties to present evidence on."
The PSB also welcomes comments from the public through email and U.S. mail.
Comments can be sent to, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or email@example.com. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.
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