The issue of how and where solar panels are sited and a proposal to investigate the feasibility of the Northfield Ridge for a commercial wind farm were the hottest topics in The Valley in 2010.
It started when the Kingsbury Farm and Yestermorrow installed prominent and visible solar trackers in fields along Route 100 in Waitsfield and Warren.
Investigation into siting regulations revealed that the Vermont Public Service Board has jurisdiction over how and where alternative energy installations are sited – if those installations feed into the existing power grid. Furthermore, local participation is not mandatory although if any local Town Plan had specific regulations that spelled out how and where solar trackers or wind turbines could be installed, the Vermont Public Service Board would have to take that into consideration.
Waitsfield’s Town Plan has a very specific prohibition of commercial wind farming on the Northfield Ridge – which made for some very crowded meetings of the town planning commission this spring and summer. Citizens Wind, a Massachusetts-based commercial wind company, came before the planning commission in April to present preliminary plans to site 19 to 24 500-foot-tall turbines on the Northfield Ridge. Company representatives answered several hours of questions from Waitsfield and other Valley residents who filled the basement of the Waitsfield United Church for the April meeting.
Prior to the meeting, Waitsfield Planning Commission members had been working through a rewrite of the Town Plan, as is required by state law every five years. At the April meeting, Citizens Wind representative Randy Male said he was hopeful that Waitsfield would amend its Town Plan, lifting the prohibition on commercial wind farming on the Northfield Ridge.
Dozens of citizens were just as hopeful that the town would not remove that prohibition and said so publicly at planning commission meetings, in letters to the editor of
The planning commission declined to lift the prohibition from the Town Plan and a nonprofit citizens’ group known as Friends of the Northfield Ridge was created to continue to lobby for protecting the ridge from commercial wind development.
In the meantime, Citizens Wind was invited to adjoining Moretown to discuss commercial wind farming on the north end of the Northfield Ridge as it runs through Moretown. That town has no restriction in its Town Plan regarding commercial wind farming. After an initial meeting with the town, Citizens Wind has neither filed application with the Public Service Board to install a temporary wind measuring device on the ridge nor begun the public outreach that Randy Male indicated would begin.
Concurrently, all Valley towns were being courted by a solar installation company that went town to town offering to finance and install solar installations (fixed and tracking) large enough to supply each town’s total electricity needs. The projects needed a suitable piece of town land and towns were required to sign a multi-year power purchase agreement and then had the option of purchasing the system at the end of the power purchase agreement.
The catch was that the projects and power purchase agreements had to be in place and before the Vermont Public Service Board by July 15 which turned out to be faster than the wheels of municipal government could work. These solar projects had relied heavily on state and federal tax credits and alternative energy credits – some of which disappeared before any town could come to any agreements.
[excerpted from “The year in review” – rest of article available at source]
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