Developer still eyes gravel pit for solar

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BELLOWS FALLS — The Rockingham Select Board likes solar power, but it also likes its gravel pit.

The board Tuesday night put off meeting with solar developer Green Lantern of Waterbury until the spring, as the town figures out what would be its best use of the town-owned gravel pit off Route 103 in Bartonsville, next to the former Vermont State Police barracks.

Town Manager Wendy Harrison said Green Lantern's representative, Ralph Meima, had requested to come before the board again, but individual board members weren't in any hurry. Harrison said Green Lantern is interested in building a 500 kw system on the north end of the town gravel pit.

The former state police barracks, which the town believes is sitting on a nice cache of gravel, is immediately adjacent to the town-owned pit.

Rockingham Select Board member Gaetano Putignano said the town wasn't opposed to solar energy development.

Select Board member Stefan Golec said he was interested in what the town would see in benefits from the Green Lantern project. He noted the old barracks were up for sale by the state. Stefan Golec said it sounded as if the Green Lantern project would only benefit the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union, "and not the town of Rockingham." The state and the town last year had failed to reach an agreement about the town buying the property.

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Select Board Chairwoman Susan Hammond said the town needs to have a longer discussion about the gravel situation. Harrison said the town should have that discussion before inviting Green Lantern to a meeting.

Resident Paul Reis said he wished the town would be "a little more open minded" about the solar project, since any electricity savings by the school district would mean savings for taxpayers. The town should do what is best for the community, he said.

Meima, Green Lantern's director of development for southern Vermont, said Wednesday in a followup interview that the site has "good solar fundamentals - road access, little shading, proximity to three phase power" and also because it's both town-owned and a reclaimed gravel pit. Under state solar regulations, a reclaimed gravel pit is a 'preferred site." He said Green Lantern is only interested in the north end of the pit, which he said had had its gravel removed and the surface had already been reclaimed.

"Our proposal was rejected 2 1/2 years ago because some board members felt that the land offered higher commercial development values," he said. "I hope for Windham County's sake that this is eventually the case, but 10 or 20 years may pass and the town of Rockingham might as well earn immediate income from a solar site lease," he said, adding that the town would benefit financially, from lease income and taxes. The state would also receive taxes, and to the eventual "off-taker" or customer for the electricity. He said the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union had agreed to meet with him next Wednesday to discuss an agreement.

"Timing is of the essence," Meima said. "If WNESU makes a decision quickly, we might be able to assign them to a more advanced project .... and offer them better value," he said. If the supervisory union is interested, he said, Green Lantern would assign a different customer to the gravel pit site.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 154.


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