Solar array in Bennington denied by Public Service Board
BENNINGTON >> The permit for a controversial solar project that would have been built near the Apple Hill neighborhood has been denied by the Public Service Board.
The PSB announced its decision Tuesday regarding the 2 megawatt array proposed for 500 Apple Hill Road by Chelsea Solar LLC. Chelsea filed for the application in June 2014.
The project would have been located northeast of the Route 279, Route 7 interchange. It would have been directly adjacent to a similarly sized project proposed by Apple Hill Solar LLC. Both Chelsea and Apple Hill are subsidiaries of Allco Renewable Energy Limited.
The Apple Hill Solar proposal is still pending and under review, said Acting PSB Clerk Judith Whitney.
According to a release from the Vermont Public Service Board, "The Board found that the project would unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region and would have an undue, adverse impact on aesthetics. In denying the petition, the board relied primarily on language in the Bennington Town Plan that sets four specific standards for development at the proposed site."
The Chelsea proposal violates three of the four requirements the town plan has for the development of the Rural Conservation District. Those three being:
• The project is not a limited residential development.
• Even with extensive screening, the project would be visible from the Bennington Welcome Center to the west.
• The project calls for the cutting 10.6 acres of forest on a 27-acre parcel.
"These proposed actions would violate this clear, written community standard in the Town Plan, and we therefore conclude that the Project fails the Quechee test," the release states.
The Quechee Test is a legal criteria produced by the Vermont Environmental Court and adopted by the Vermont Supreme Court used to measure a project's aesthetic impacts.
The full PSB order can be viewed at: http://psb.vermont.gov/sites/psb/files/orders/2016/February/8302%20Final%20Order.pdf
The array and its sister project generated no small amount of controversy and backlash within the community. Its neighbors opposed them from the beginning and while the projects were proposed in 2014, the Bennington Select Board did not take much interest in them until August of the following year when it held an emergency meeting to discuss, and ultimately oppose, the projects.
The town also applied for, and got, legal standing on the two matters allowing it to offer its input.
When the legislature passed a law allowing the towns to create their own solar citing ordinance, which the PSB was mandated to enforce provided the local law met certain criteria, the board worked to draft just such an ordinance.
The size of the projects qualified them to take advantage of the state's net metering program. The PSB initially ruled them to be one project, and thus not eligible, however the developers appealed the decision and it ultimately went before the Vermont Supreme Court, which rules the two arrays separate due to a fence between them and different access roads.
"It's great the solar project was denied; it would have been a huge scar on Bennington," said Rick Carroll, a resident who has been vocal in opposition. "There's no question that harnessing energy from the sun is part of a renewable energy strategy; one of the most important things we can do. The second most import thing is to develop all renewable energy responsibly. One of the most responsible ways is to have solar development benefit the State of Vermont taxpayers."
Attempts were made Tuesday to reach Thomas Melone, chief executive officer of Allco Renewable Energy Limited, however he did not respond immediately.
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