Renewable Energy Siting Public Hearing, Vermont Legislature, March 24, 2015

Public Hearing photos, audio, video, written comments

Public Hearing in Room 11

Joint Hearing of the Senate and House Natural Resources & Energy Committees

  • 54 people spoke.  
  • 26 people spoke in favor of standards for renewable energy siting, noted by * before their names in the list below.   
  • 22 people who spoke, generally against changing the process or establishing standards, have direct ties and/or a financial interest in the renewable energy industry, noted by + before their names.
  • 6 of those 22 speakers work for Suncommon, REV, or are on VPIRG’s Board of Directors and did not disclose that affiliation.  They are noted below by ++ before their names.
  • 6 people spoke who do not appear to have a direct financial interest in the industry.  There is nothing before their names.

Legislative page where comments are posted:

Send comments to and reference that your comments are about renewable energy siting.  

Photos of Public Hearing

Audio of Public Hearing,

Video of full hearing,

Videos of Individual speakers


    by Senate NRE Chair Christopher Bray

 *1John McGuire, 

     Ferrisburg, neighbor of AllEarth/Basin Harbor Club solar

 +2Phil Pouech, 

     Hinesburg, Renewable NRG Systems

 *3Melanie Peyser, 

     Monkton, neighbor of Vermont Gas pipeline proposal

 +4Jeff Forward, 

     Richmond, Forward Thinking Consultants, wood

     energy, invested in solar project

++5Jennie Stevens, 

     Burlington, Blittersdorf chair/UVM

     board of VPIRG (did not disclose affiliation)

 +6Jordana Jusidman, 

     Pomfret, groSolar

 *7David Fucci, 

     North Clarendon, neighbor of groSolar project

 *8Steve Wright, 

     Craftsbury, RidgeProtectors

 *9Annette Smith, 

     Danby, Vermonters for a Clean Environment

 *10Ann Hogan, 

       Town of Shelburne

 *11Pat Sagui, 


 *12Keith Ballek, 

       Sheffield Planning Commission

  13Alan Pierce, 

      Duxbury, independent consultant specializing in

      forest policy

 *14Paul Brouha, 

       Sutton Planning Commission, 

       neighbor of SunEdison wind project

 +15Philip Allen, 

       Rutland, SameSun

 *16Jerry Mullen, 


++17Kate Kroll, 

       Burlington, Operations Coordinator, Renewable

       Energy Vermont (did not disclose affiliation)

 *18Charles Johnson, 

       East Montpelier, former Vermont State Naturalist

 +19Lincoln Lande, 

       Waterbury, works on 500kW+ solar projects

 *20Don Chioffi, 

       Rutland Town Select Board

 +21Richard Ratico, 

       Bradford, Solarwind Electric

  ++22Emily McManamy, 


 +23Chris Louras, 

        Rutland City

 *24Kim Fried, 

       Newark Planning Commission

 *25Carol Irons, 

       Albany, neighbor of Lowell wind project

 26Betsy Hardy, 

     Richmond, VT Interfaith Power & Light

+27Duane Peterson 

      Essex, SunCommon

 *28Bob Walker, 


 +29David Blittersdorf, 

       Charlotte, AllEarth Renewables, owner of Georgia

       Mountain Wind

 *30Dianna Leazer, 

       Bennington, neighbor of proposed Allco/Ecos 

       Energy solar project

 *31Rep. Thomas Terenzini, 

      Rutland Town

 +32Suzanne Sawyer, 

       New Haven, hosts solar project

++33Brock Gibian, 

       Burlington, Fellow at Renewable Energy Vermont  

       (did not disclose affiliation)

 34Don Cummings, 

     South Burlington, Energy Committee

 *35Marcy Wisnowski, 

       Ferrisburg, neighbor of AllEarth/Basin Harbor Club 


 *36Paul Stone 

       Orwell, former Commissioner of Agriculture

++37Corey Decker, 

        Fletcher, “proud SunCommon customer”, works for 

        SunCommon (did not disclose affiliation)

 *38Charles Kelly, 

       Addison, Planning Commission, Engineer in Energy Field

 +39Aaron Heyerdahl, 

       Montpelier, SunCommon

 *40Leonard Duffy, 


 *41Noreen Hession, 

       Newark, neighbor of withdrawn Eolian Wind project

   42Ernest May, 

       South Burlington

 *43Robert Kischko, 

       Springfield, neighbor of denied biomass project

 *44Dhyan Nirmegh, 


 *45Steve Therrien, 

       Sheffield & Derby, abandoned home next to SunEdison wind project

  46Larry Richburg, 

      Randolph, Builder, Select Board, Energy Committee

 *47Peter Rothschild, 

       New Haven Planning Commission

 +48Dan Barlow, 

       BarreVBSR/Board has numerous industry affiliations

 +49James Pepper, 

       East Montpelier, SunCommon

 +50Jack McCarthy, 

       St. Albans, hosts Community Solar Array

++51Colleen Halley, 

       Moretown, Associate Director, VPIRG (did not  

       disclose affiliation)

 +52Kevin McCollister, 

       East Montpelier, Catamount Solar

 +53Ben Gordesky, 

       Burlington, DC Energy Innovations, Earthbound 

       Services, works in Solar Industry 

 +54Lucy Gluck, 

        Burlington, SunCommon

    Closing Remarks

          by Sen. Christopher Bray


Full text of all articles is pasted in below. 

Articles about Public Hearing on Energy Siting:

TV News — click on the links to watch the videos 

Renewable energy hearing draws in crowd

More than 100 residents spoke out on placement of future solar panels

Published  10:38 PM EDT Mar 24, 2015

MONTPELIER, Vt. —More than 100 people turned out for a Vermont statehouse hearing on growing concern that Vermont’s booming solar industry is leaving a bad mark on the state’s landscape.

“I think it is imperative for those conversations to happen at the local level,” said a Monkton resident.

The Senate and House Natural Resources and Energy Committee’s joint session focused on where solar panels can go.

“I live on a 200 year old farm in Richmond, Vermont. I have a 25 kilowatt group net metered solar project that I’ve built on my farm.”

Sixty Vermonters from all corners of the state were able to share their thoughts on the placement of future solar panels.

In recent years, the Vermont legislature has pushed for the advancement of renewable energy production in the state. While many say they appreciate the benefits of the cleaner energy source, some feel there are downfalls that can’t be overlooked.

“A solar panel the size of 25 massive pounds can receive a rubber stamp of approval with incredibly minimal oversight. This in my opinion puts one of Vermont’s greatest resources it’s natural beauty at great risk,” said one resident.

But others believe the state needs to continue to move towards a greener future.

“I get it, I understand change is hard, a changing landscape is a difficult thing for many people to accept, but change we must. We’re going to change whether we want to or not.”


Vermont lawmakers hear about solar power industry

Updated: Mar 26, 2015 5:00 PM EDT

By Alex Apple


The Vermont Statehouse debate over solar energy was devisive as lawmakers weigh further investment versus preservation of the state’s natural beauty.

Also up for debate was how the Public Service Board decides if a project is in the “public good.” While some Vermonters hope for local control, others sounded off on keeping restrictions to more development at a minimum.

Climate change is a moral issue to some, others deny its existence.

To deal with climate change, Vermont lawmakers have passed several laws to promote investment in solar energy. Tuesday, the joint Natural Resources and Energy Committee heard testimony from dozens of Vermonters about concerns that those new arrays may harm the landscape.

“This, in my opinion, puts one of Vermont’s greatest resources– it’s natural beauty– at risk,” said John McGwire.

“What we have is an incredible assembly of healthy ecosystems,” said Steve Wright of Craftsbury.

Others say the changing landscape is a consequence Vermont must accept.

“Personally, I think my project looks beautiful, juxtaposed against my historic barn, I think it’s a beautiful project,” said Jeff Forward.

“Climate change is real. It’s a moral issue, and it’s the real public good,” said Phil Pouch, who supports solar energy.

The joint legislative committee also asked for the Vermonters’ thoughts on the Public Service Board’s process of approval. Some advocated for local control opposing others asking to keep the process simple.

“There is no consideration given to individuals, municipalities or regions,” said David Fucci of Vermonters for Responsible Solar.

“I think it’s a mistake to put more restrictions on solar energy,” said Pouch.

“The state should not take steps that would create additional barriers, that would slow down additional development,” said Jenny Steven, a University of Vermont professor.

The state seeks a balance between preserving the earth and saving the state’s natural beauty.

The joint Natural Resources and Energy Committee will now weigh the opinions it heard to decide if new legislation is needed to change the rate of development or deal with the Public Service Board’s deciding on public good.


Statehouse hearing on renewable energy concerns draws crowd

By DAVE GRAM, Associated Press

Updated 9:34 pm, Tuesday, March 24, 2015

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — More than 100 people turned out for a Vermont Statehouse hearing Tuesday on growing concerns that the state’s push to build renewable energy is causing aesthetic and other environmental problems.

The crowd was divided between those arguing that climate change demands aggressive development of solar, wind and other renewable energy projects; and others complaining that the state’s siting process effectively shuts out many residents.

When a neighboring business decided to install an array of solar power panels, the state Public Service Board gave “a rubber stamp approval with incredibly little oversight,” said John McGuireof Ferrisburgh.

But Phil Pouech, a Hinesburg Select Board member who works in the wind energy industry, took exactly the opposite view, saying the public good of the state outweighs local concerns.

“We cannot as town members or Select Board members really understand the public good because we cannot see outside our (town) borders,” Pouech said. He said “clean renewable energy is cost effective, it has very little environmental impact and it keeps economic activities within our communities,” he said.

Several bills have been filed relating to the state’s energy siting process, but prospects for passage are doubtful this year with about six weeks remaining in the 2015 legislative session.

Many of the speakers on Tuesday indicated they had been involved in the debate over energy siting for years and would continue their involvement even if the Legislature makes no changes this year.

Annette Smith of Danby, founder of the group Vermonters for a Clean Environment, contrasted the Public Service Board siting process unfavorably with Vermont’s Act 250 law, which regulates other types of development. She said the Act 250 process is much more welcoming to citizen involvement.

Act 250 has an elaborate system allowing private citizens a say in development projects, Smith said. Energy projects are regulated separately, through the Public Service Board. Smith and several other speakers said the process required them to hire lawyers and costly experts and still did not produce what was in their view a fair result.

Rutland Mayor Chris Louras testified that local communities can have a strong say in where solar installations sit within their borders, but need to take leadership and be involved in the projects’ development early.

Paul Stone of Orwell, a former state agriculture commissioner, as well as a Select Board and Planning Commission member in his town, said many Vermonters had spent hundreds or thousands of volunteer hours serving on such boards, only to have the Public Service Board trump local decision-making in the siting of projects.

“Plain and simple, solar energy projects are development and they’re ugly,” Stone said. He called on the Legislature to strip the Public Service Board of siting authority over the projects.




More than 150 people attended a public hearing at the Statehouse on Tuesday night designed to help lawmakers draft policy to address a concern over the siting a growing number of wind and solar farms in Vermont. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Carol Irons, a 74-year old from Albany, can see the wind farm on Lowell Mountain from her home. She said the 21-turbine project, which was built in 2012, required clear-cutting, blasting and bulldozing.

“These things are not renewable. They are destructive,” Irons told a panel of lawmakers at a hearing on energy siting policy Tuesday night. “The [Public Service Board] approval process enables developers to do what they want, wherever they want. This appears to be the Public Service Board’s definition of public good.”

More than 150 people attended the Statehouse hearing, which was designed to help lawmakers draft policy to address a concern over the siting of a growing number of wind and solar farms in Vermont. Lawmakers say legislation is not expected until next year.

The amount of wind and solar energy generated in Vermont has increased tenfold from about 20 megawatts of capacity in 2010 to more than 200 megawatts either installed or permitted today, according to the Department of Public Service.

Some residents say these projects harm Vermont’s aesthetic character and towns. Others warned lawmakers not to slow progress on curbing greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Kate Kroll, a 24 year-old from Burlington, said she came to Vermont from Pennsylvania, where she said the process of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas is tearing apart her home state. She said while some Vermonters worry about having to look at solar form their backyards, her friends can’t drink their tap water.

“So, when I think about making the barriers to solar more difficult than they already are in Vermont, I feel very scared. We have to get our energy needs from somewhere,” Kroll said. “So, let’s make out backyards part of the solution and not the problem.”

Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison, chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, said he has received up to 20 letters from constituents on the issue.

“I’ve had everything from ‘I don’t want to see any development in our county’ to ‘New Haven ought to be proud that it may be leading the state to the amount of renewable energy generated there,’” Bray said.

He said his committee may set up a working group over the summer to help inform legislation for next year. He said the study group may be part of a standalone siting bill or included in the state’s renewable energy legislation, H.40, which will require utilities to sell power from more wind, solar and hydro.

“We are coupling the development of additional renewable energy with an assessment of can we do better,” Bray said.

Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, chair of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said he will pass legislation out of the House this year to address siting. He said it may give towns with clear siting standards a stronger say in the location of projects. He also said it may include incentives to build projects in developed areas such as gravel pits and landfills.

“You want to create carrots for developers to go where you want them to develop and in the other areas there should be some adherence to real planning that isn’t developed just to shut down development,” he said.

Solar installers say there are already constraints on where projects can be located.

According to Duane Peterson, co-founder of Waterbury-based SunCommon, some projects can’t be installed on old roofs or in shaded areas. Other projects must be placed on flat, sunny areas near power lines without affecting wetlands and endangered species.

“It’s a long process,” Peterson said. “Town-by-town regulations, with hundreds of towns, would add to the challenge.”

Recent proposed solar projects have been located on wetlands and in forested areas, according to Billy Coster, senior planner and policy analyst for the Agency of Natural Resources.

“Wetlands are a feature of our landscape. And they often do come into play with these facilities. But typically folks have been able to modify their layouts and modify their proposals,” Coster said.


Communities Demand More Say on Solar Projects 


As Jim Walsh drove from Ferrisburgh to New Haven last week, he pulled over repeatedly to point out each new solar cluster along Route 7. In some places, they seem to be popping up like dandelions.

That one, the New Haven selectboard member said of a 17-acre array, was originally proposed to be bigger and closer to the road. Based on the town’s objections, smaller panels were erected farther back in a field when it was built in 2013.

A few miles away on Dog Team Road, Walsh pointed to a one-acre solar facility that is a stone’s throw from a home. It’s so close that the neighbors, Dale Hastings and Jess Whitney, say they plan to go to court to argue that their property’s value has declined as a result.

New Haven is what Walsh and others refer to as ground zero in Vermont’s red-hot solar siting debate. A surge of projects spurred by state incentives is bringing more attention to a nagging question: How much control should local residents and communities have over where energy projects end up?

Oversight currently rests in the hands of the Vermont Public Service Board, but many town officials argue that the PSB should give greater weight to their ideas about what gets built where. Leaders of some 50 towns have signed a petition the Rutland town selectboard started in January, asking for changes in state law to give them that power.

“I think the state needs to find a way to accommodate the views and wishes of local communities,” said Peter Rothschild, who serves with Walsh on the New Haven Planning Commission.

Legislators are listening. Ten pending bills would, to varying degrees, give communities more leverage. Legislators held a public hearing on the issue asSeven Days went to press Tuesday.

Even lawmakers who strongly support renewable energy are saying something has to be done.

“It’s important that folks see and know that their concerns have been heard and listened to and we’re addressing them,” said House Natural Resources and Energy Committee chair Tony Klein (D-East Montpelier), a longtime renewable energy proponent. “Our intent is to craft a bill that gets out of committee and passes out of the House by the end of the session.”

That means the bill stands little chance of passing the Senate this year. Klein’s Senate counterpart, Chris Bray (D-Addison), said he hopes to put together a group that will work over the summer and fall on legislation that would be ready to go next year.

Bray could not ignore the debate even if he wanted to. He lives in New Haven, and towns in his district have signed onto the Rutland petition or raised similar concerns. A one-acre solar project is proposed for a tract of land that is half a mile from his house.

Bray said he looks favorably on locally generated non-fossil-fuel power. But he sees the rift that projects have generated in his town. “The risk I see is that if projects get pushed out in such a way that more and more people object, it will ultimately slow down the movement from fossil fuels,” Bray said.

The chief complaint in scenic Vermont is that large-scale solar arrays have the potential to mar prime views. The angst is reminiscent of the debates that consumed some Vermont towns within sight of large wind turbine projects. In the wind debate, cries from a few towns — chiefly about aesthetics and turbine noise — were largely ignored. On the solar front, the sheer number of projects being proposed and of towns and neighbors affected make the complaints harder to dismiss.

“We’re the canary in the coal mine. It’s going to come to a town near you,” said Rothschild.

New Haven, population 1,666, ­­is rural and relatively flat, with lots of open farmland and ready access to the electric grid through a new power-transmission substation. That makes it prime territory for solar development. In the past two years, eight solar arrays have been or are being built, Walsh said. Four more are planned. Another three or four are on the drawing board.

Each project sends neighbors, the planning commission and the selectboard scurrying to get a foothold in a PSB approval process that some say heavily favors the developer.

Having spent 14 years on the town planning commission, Walsh has seen other hot-button issues: the Northwest Vermont Reliability Project brought a major electric transmission line through town; more recently, Vermont Gas has sought to build a controversial 43-mile pipeline, nine miles of which would go through New Haven.

But nothing has consumed the commission quite like the steady stream of proposed solar projects.

Last week, the town applied to intervene in the PSB approval process for a 350-kilowatt-hour array that would cover five acres on Route 7 in New Haven near a Vermont State Police station. The proposed size exceeds the town plan’s per-project limit of 300 kwh.

“This will be the next chapter that’s written as to whether the town plan matters,” said town selectboard member Doug Tolles.

Developers and state officials say they take town plans into consideration and that the process works the way it’s supposed to. “If the community puts specification in the town plan, it’s not clear that the Public Service Board doesn’t take that into account,” said Darren Springer, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Public Service. As an example, he cited a Springfield biomass project the board rejected because it conflicted with the town plan.

Energy projects are held to different standards than other commercial development based on their contribution to the overall public good. Developers note that Vermont law and Vermonters are generally in favor of locally generated renewable energy. Developers also contend they bend over backward to accommodate local concerns.

“We are learning as we go across the state of Vermont how to have these conversations,” said James Moore, cofounder of SunCommon, a Waterbury Center solar developer. “I think folks have a voice in the process and a voice that carries significant weight. That does not mean that voice always carries the day.”

Sometimes it does. Early this month, SunCommon proposed a one-acre solar project in a field off Route 7 in New Haven that would have planted solar panels between Tourterelle restaurant and a stunning view of the Adirondacks.

With just 10 days notice before SunCommon submitted its application to the state PSB, restaurant owners Bill and Christine Snell and neighbor Marie Gordon went to town officials pleading for help. The project was news to the town, Rothschild said. Neighbors and town officials were preparing to argue against it.

Walsh brought up the case in an email he sent to his legislators last week, noting that he was speaking as a citizen, not as a town official. “This project reinforces and highlights the immediate need for solar-siting standards that have local control embedded in this process,” Walsh wrote.

Last Friday, SunCommon pulled the plug on the project. The company never intended to build it if the restaurant was opposed, Moore said. In just three weeks, the project had popped up, caused a furor and disappeared.

What the state might do to satisfy localities is unclear.

New Haven town leaders said they’d like solar siting to affect fewer people. One way, Walsh suggested, would be to clump arrays into designated solar parks.

Klein, the House committee chair, is sponsoring H.276, a bill that would give priority to projects built in less-desirable places such as brownfields. His bill would also force the PSB to give preference to municipal plans for siting, but with a caveat. The municipality would have to identify places where five-megawatt projects could be built, and the PSB would still be able to overrule such plans if its members felt they were in conflict with the state’s public good.

Annette Smith of Danby, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, has been trying for years to make the point that residents and communities lack sufficient standing in the PSB process. She’s dubious that state leaders are willing to make significant changes.

“I really don’t think it’s getting as much traction as it should,” she said. “It really puzzles me why the citizen legislature is so hostile to the public on this issue.”

The PSB process is challenging, she said. Individuals who want to get involved in a case have to prove they are affected. Once they do that, they have a tough time showing their situation outweighs the public good. “It’s rigged from the beginning,” she said.

During the debate over large wind projects, Smith found little support in the legislature for giving neighbors more control.

But many more towns are involved in the solar showdown. And they’re not seeking a moratorium on new projects, as wind opponents did. Most just want a say in where they are built.

“I don’t think you’ll find anyone on the planning commission or the selectboard totally opposed to renewable energy,” said Walsh.

“They haven’t just said, ‘No, we don’t want this,'” Bray noted. “They’re saying, ‘How can we do this better?'”


Opinion | Letters

Solar testimony falls on deaf ears

March 27,2015

On Tuesday, March 24, I presented testimony to the joint House-Senate Natural Resources Committees on behalf of Rutland Town. The only town to have spent over a year developing comprehensive siting standards, we have engaged over 39 fellow towns in Vermont on a resolution demanding more say in the PSB hearing process. Our entire town of 4,000 was given exactly the same two minutes as one individual solar proponent, and that was considered to be “equal treatment.”

To make matters worse, instead of a gentle reminder, we were rudely interrupted by “thank you, your time is up.” While most of the pro side of the more than 100 in attendance had a direct financial interest, either as consumers or as industry spokespersons, the remaining testimony, which was actually far more than half, represented dedicated individuals from planning commissions and select boards from all over the state that simply wanted “democracy restored” to the process, as one of them said. 

The general attitude expressed by all of those was not in any way anti-solar, but rather pro-democratic inclusion in the siting process in keeping with Vermont tradition, and putting an end to the PSBs unilateral and arrogant dismissal of local input to this process. The entire discussion by the overwhelming majority at the hearing crystallized into a classic “home rule” argument and could not have been a clearer description of a state rights vs. local rights issue. In short, more and more localities are simply fed up with the state and its appointees telling them in so many words that neither they, nor the ideas and votes that they take for their towns have any meaning whatsoever, and that this is really serious stuff when it affects the looks of your entire community.

Many at the hearing made the keen observation that there is a significant difference between small, personal and rooftop installations (which they called true solar community improvements) and industrial solar of the magnitude of tens and tens of thousands of panels in our fields everywhere. They maintained that we do not allow any other industry to do this, and solar should be no different, especially when it is for profit motives alone, and these large fields are definitely cash cows for well-heeled investors.

As proof that the media coverage of these events is far from balanced, Mr. Gram of the AP asked me after testifying if I would be so kind as to give him a copy of my testimony, presented on behalf of the 4,000 citizens I was elected to represent. I gave him that copy and not one word of it was printed in his article. Even though Rutland Town has legitimately adopted standards, and even though we spearheaded the drive with a resolution and so far have obtained 39 towns as signatories on the very subject of this entire hearing — not one word in his article, and the free press of our state calls this “balanced” reporting. Apparently, the passionate plea by thousands of citizens, made by their elected representatives locally, fell on totally deaf ears in Mr. Gram’s case and he clearly misunderstood the entire tenor of two hours of discussion. See the testimony on

The citizens of our state want their rights back and they are sick and tired of being ignored and dictated to by a state government dominated by ideology, whether D or R, rather than common sense.



Rutland Town


Opinion | Perspective

Sun power

March 29,2015

The issue of siting for solar arrays is one the Legislature will eventually have to face, and the longer it waits, the more difficult the issue will become.

With the proliferation of solar sites around the state, awareness is growing that local governments and the neighbors of proposed projects have less say than they might like. They certainly have less say than they would have for projects within the purview of Act 250, the state’s principal land use law… Energy projects are the responsibility of the state Public Service Board, rather than district environmental commissions, and local communities and residents increasingly have expressed a feeling of powerlessness.

There is a reason that power projects are the responsibility of the state rather than of local communities. Providing electric power is an important statewide interest, and in the past, power plants have been large projects with a regional impact. The state would be hindered in maintaining a reliable power supply if select boards or planning commissions had the power to veto a major power generator.

Even so, the Public Service Board must consider power projects according to a series of criteria similar to those that apply under Act 250. One of those criteria takes into account any undue adverse impacts on the aesthetics of a region. As with many legal questions, everything hinges on how words are defined — words such as “undue,” “adverse” and “impact.”

The PSB has come in for criticism for abandoning a standard that takes into account the effect on neighbors. Neighbors often have a specific, narrow interest to defend, and the board has seen the need to look beyond the neighbor’s interest to the larger good.

This conflict has loomed large in Addison County. More than in most of Vermont, Addison County is characterized by open, relatively flat countryside. The high mountains that hem in many parts of Vermont do not obstruct the sun in the lovely rolling landscape of towns such as New Haven.

Now New Haven is ground zero for the conflict between energy progress and wise land use. Some proposed projects are impinging on neighbors in ways that Act 250 would most likely never allow. Yet many local residents feel they lack a voice on whether the projects should be permitted.

Rutland Town is another place where conflict over solar arrays has come to a head. The town incorporated solar siting standards within its town plan, but as a PSB hearing officer noted, those standards conflict with the plan’s stated support for alternative energy development. Nor does the plan have standing sufficient to justify rejection of the project. 

The Rutland Town case underscores the dilemma. The hearing officer put forward the notion that neighbors are not the “average person,” and so their concerns are less important. That is an idea that is outraging a growing number of neighbors around the state.

A recent editorial in the Addison Independent, the Middlebury weekly, contained an important warning. Solar development in Vermont could eventually hit a brick wall the way that wind development has done because of growing public outrage. In the case of wind, several projects in the Northeast Kingdom have met all the PSB’s standards but have excited opposition fierce enough that residents throughout the state are on guard against future wind projects. When a developer proposed wind generators for Grandpa’s Knob in Castleton, residents in four towns rose up in near unanimity to oppose it, and the developer backed down.

The development of solar power in Vermont is one of the most positive economic development trends in recent years. But solar power is what the utilities call “distributed” power, which means it comes from numerous relatively small, local sources scattered across the landscape. The larger trend could be stifled if a local veto was allowed. But it could also be stifled if local concerns are ignored and outrage becomes extreme. 

Act 250 could serve as a model. Defenders of Act 250 say it is meant to guide development rather than block it. Solar arrays ought to be guided away from damagingly close proximity to neighbors, but solar power should not be stifled. It must remain a prime goal for the state for economic development and climate reasons. 

The aesthetic argument is not black and white. Some say solar arrays are an ugly blot on the landscape; some say they are a beautiful emblem of progress. The claim that they are ugly has no more standing than the argument that a shopping plaza is ugly. In both cases, careful consideration of their local impact ought to occur, even if greater latitude is due for sustainable energy projects than for many other forms of economic development.  


Grafton Selectboard’s letter to Rutland Town upsets some residents

By Domenic Poli

POSTED:   04/02/2015 07:52:03 PM EDT | UPDATED:   ABOUT 15 HOURS AGO

GRAFTON >> Despite protests from members of the public, the Grafton Selectboard opted last month to submit a letter stating the town supports the solar resolution drafted by the town of Rutland.

The board voted 4-1 on March 16 to make Grafton roughly the 40th Vermont town to endorse the petition. Town Administrator Rachel Williams told the Reformer the letter of support was placed in the mail April 1. Selectboard member Gus Plummer cast the lone dissenting vote against the motion.

Williams mentioned the letter was sent to Rutland Town, which will send it to the Vermont State Legislature.

Rutland Town Selectboard Chairman Steven E. Hawley sent a letter to his colleagues throughout the state explaining that the resolution was drafted to form a coalition of communities that will support reasonable legislation to restore local input to the regulatory process for solar siting in Vermont.

“Our community has spent countless hours during a whole year-long process to develop a document called ‘SOLAR SITING STANDARDS,’ which was then adopted by our Planning Commission as an amendment to our Town Plan. This document was a thoughtful representation of our community’s support for solar development and outlined our town plan for its reasonable integration to the landscape of our community,” the letter reads. “The document, and therefore our town’s plan for such development, was virtually ignored by the regulatory process. This is not what we feel the state intended when encouraging and supporting the entire deliberative planning process in our state which has served us all so well for decades.”

Hawley stressed that the citizens and Selectboard members of Rutland Town are not opposed to renewable energy, but are simply interested in generating more local input in the process.

However, people at the Grafton Selectboard meeting on March 16 voiced opposition to their town adding its name to the list of supporters. Eric Stevens said he doesn’t think it is a good idea.

Kim Record, who is Grafton’s town clerk and town treasurer, mentioned she believes only one-fourth of Vermont’s 267 towns have signed on to Rutland Town’s resolution and asked if anyone had researched the reasons behind that. Selectboard Chairman Sam Battaglino said the percentage is higher than what Record cited, but Plummer said 38 towns had signed on as of the previous week.

Liisa Kissel said the Rutland resolution’s intention is to make it possible for Grafton to look after its own interests in a very modest way.

“This is about giving the town a seat at the table,” she said. “All it does is really protect the town to a certain degree against something the town decides is not suitable for it.”

Selectboard member Skip Lisle told the crowd at Grafton Town Hall he understands the objections, but not every decision can come to a townwide vote because nothing would ever get accomplished. Selectboard member Ron Pilette said he views the resolution as a general attempt to get the state’s politicians to do something that would give Grafton a more meaningful role.

“I find that as about as ‘mom and apple pie’ as one could ask for,” he said.


After opposition, SunCommon pulls plug on solar array

By Zach Despart

NEW HAVEN — A Vermont solar company has withdrawn a proposal for a solar array near Route 7 in New Haven after neighbors complained it would be an eyesore and hurt their business.

Waterbury firm SunCommon had planned to site a one-acre, 150-kilowatt Community Solar Array (CSA) on Route 7 just south of Town Hill Road, on land owned by the Gilbert family. The site was behind Tourterelle inn and restaurant.

Tourterelle owners Bill and Christine Snell opposed the project because they worried it would negatively affect their business. Bill Snell said Tourterelle often hosts weddings and other events on the expansive lawn behind the inn, which has beautiful views of Lake Champlain and the mountains beyond in New York state. The couple feared that the array would ruin those views.

“You have that picture of the beautiful Adirondacks, and that would not exist, because you’d just see a row of solar panels,” Snell said. He believed the array could cut their wedding bookings in half.

Snell said he and his wife do not oppose solar, but rather want arrays to be sited with minimal impact on adjacent landowners and passersby.

“We’re not against solar panels going up, but not in the view from somebody’s house,” Snell said. “If you’re going to put them up, put them on a roof or where no one else can see them.”

Snell added that SunCommon was receptive to their concerns.

“They listened and they stopped it right away,” he said.

In the future, Snell said other solar companies should work with municipalities to site arrays with aesthetic concerns in mind. If not, Snell said, solar arrays will deter tourists from visiting Vermont.

Duane Peterson, co-founder of SunCommon, said Tuesday that the company is committed to listening to neighbors’ concerns when siting solar projects. After receiving opposition to the project on the Gilbert property, SunCommon pulled the plug.

“When we learned of Tourterelle’s concerns about the CSA, we decided to stop moving forward,” Peterson said. “We recognized Tourterelle as a community institution regularly visited by New Haven residents and concluded that a solar array at this location wouldn’t work.”

Peterson said the project was still in the planning stage, and the company cancelled it before submitting an application to the Public Service Board.

SunCommon has built seven Community Solar Arrays in Addison County to date, and plans to build two more in the near future. Peterson said the company wants to build arrays in locations that are most appropriate.

“Before any designs were drawn and before any applications were filed, we made sure to talk with the neighboring landowners about our intentions,” he said. “This is a valuable part of our process, one that allows neighbors a voice in how and where these arrays are sited.”


The New Haven Planning Commission has taken an interest in solar projects proposed in the town. Though the Public Service Board has the sole authority to site and regulate solar projects, the planning commission has often written letters to the PSB expressing concerns about particular projects, acting as an advocate of residents.

“Every project that’s proposed in New Haven comes before our board,” co-chair Rob Litch said. “Unfortunately the recent history is the PSB has the ultimate say and can apparently choose to disregard our town plan and input from the community.”

Litch said the planning commission never formally evaluated a plan for the Gilbert solar array because it was never submitted to the Public Service Board, but said the members had some initial concerns about the location.

“It seemed that it was a poor siting,” he said. “Ultimately it affected the neighbors considerably.”

New Haven is also in the process of rewriting its town plan. Litch said the planning commission is hoping to more clearly define the role townspeople want solar to play in New Haven’s future.

“Certainly solar is one of the areas we could use stronger language to better represent what the community has voiced to us,” Litch said.

The current town plan, written in 2011, suggests that solar arrays in town should not be larger than 300 kilowatts, but does not address siting concerns. Ideas the planning commission has discussed incorporating into the new iteration include setting size limits on projects, mandating vegetative screening and setbacks from roads and neighbors, and protecting prime agricultural soil from commercial development.

Peter_VT  20 hours ago

I would like to correct Mr. Peterson’s statement, ““Before any designs were drawn and before any applications were filed, we made sure to talk with the neighboring landowners about our intentions,” The fact is that SunCommon did NOT talk with neighboring landowners prior to sending them a letter that SunCommon would be filing with the PSB in three days. It is also clear that SunCommon pulled out only after public outcry over their poor treatment of Tourterelle. My sense is that were it not for Tourterelle, SunCommon would have proceeded forward without any regard to another neighbor whose home would likely have lost considerable value since the solar array would have been right next to her home.  SunCommon claims to have a good neighbor policy, but from what I have seen in New Haven, they may talk the talk, but they do not walk the walk.


Lawmakers: Next year for renewable energy legislation

DAVE GRAM, Associated Press5:48 a.m. EDT March 25, 2015

Key Vermont lawmakers are saying that with about six weeks to go in the this year’s Statehouse session, it’s likely legislation to retool the way Vermont sites solar, wind and other renewable energy projects will take until next year to see action.

The comments from Sen. Christopher Bray, D-Addison, and Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, chairmen of the Senate and House Natural Resources and Energy committees, respectively, followed a Statehouse hearing Tuesday that drew impassioned comments from Vermontresidents on both sides of the renewable energy debate.

Some of the more than 100 people who attended argued that climate change demands aggressive development of renewables; others complained that the state’s siting process effectively shuts out many residents.

Klein said he expected that before lawmakers adjourn in May, the House would pass a bill to create incentives to develop renewable energy projects in gravel pits, environmentally damaged “brown fields,” and similar less valuable sites, as opposed to the former farm fields that in many towns have drawn complaints of spoiled views.

But Klein acknowledged there likely would not be time to get the bill through the Senate, and Bray said he expected a special committee to be appointed to study siting issues during the summer and fall and prepare legislation for action next winter.

Dozens spoke before the combined hearings of the House and Senate committees. People employed in the industry talked up the need to address climate change and move away from burning fossil fuels to generate electricity, and argued that the siting process, now overseen by the state Public Service Board, was onerous enough and did not need toughening.

Suzanne Sawyer of New Haven, said her husband, a retired dairy farmer, recently had passed away, and that devoting some of her property to a solar power project was enabling her to stay on the farm.

“It allows our farm, which has been in the family for over 100 years … to stay with me and my children,” said Sawyer.

Others said they didn’t want to focus on energy or climate change or economics, but on the ability of Vermont’s towns to keep their rural character preserved from what some said they see as an industrial blight.

“What we’re talking about here is a political problem, a constitutional problem, and one of the most basic of our ‘home rule’ conflicts,” said Donald Chioffi of Rutland Town. He presented to lawmakers a petition signed by 37 towns saying “legislative changes are needed to affordVermont municipalities a greater say in the approval and siting of renewable energy projects.”

Many of the speakers on Tuesday indicated they had been involved in the debate over energy siting for years and would continue their involvement even if the Legislature makes no changes this year.

Annette Smith of Danby, founder of the group Vermonters for a Clean Environment, contrasted the Public Service Board siting process unfavorably with Vermont’s Act 250 law, which regulates other types of development. She said the Act 250 process is much more welcoming to citizen involvement.

Act 250 has an elaborate system allowing private citizens a say in development projects, Smith said. Energy projects are regulated separately, through the Public Service Board. Smith and several other speakers said the process required them to hire lawyers and costly experts and still did not produce what was in their view a fair result.