In a 20-minute meeting Friday, the Charlotte Selectboard voted 4 to 1 not to go forward with a proposal for 14 solar trackers on Thompson’s Point.
The board had previouslyheld six public hearings on the proposal by AllEarth Renewables, Inc. to install and maintain the panels and to sell electricity to the town for its buildings. Thompson’s Point camp owners and other residents have spoken both in opposition and in favor of the proposal.
Thompson’s Point is a 230-acre area of lakeshore, woodland and meadows owned by the town since 1839. The town began leasing lots for camps in 1874, and families built summer homes, many of them remaining in the same family over several generations.
Discussion at hearings has centered on two areas of concern: the project’s environmental benefit and whether or not it would be cost effective.
The town would have paid a fixed rate of 20 cents per kilowatt-hour, and it would receive 20 cents credit from the utility, Green Mountain Power. Generation of excess power, would have caused meters to spin backward, resulting in a credit.
Benefits to the town would have depended on whether energy rates increase over the 15-year period proposed by AllEarth Renewable, which had presented a scenario in which the company expected rates to at least double in that time.
At a September hearing, resident Susan Crockenberg expressed support for the project.
“We should be doing this. It is a prudent and forward-looking investment for the town,” Crockenberg said.
Not all residents were as firmly in favor, commenting that taxpayers are footing part of the cost through tax credits. Dean Leary said, “The solution might be let’s get rid of the subsidies for fossil fuel.”
Later hearings drew more than 25 Thompson’s Point camp owners, most of them year-around residents of Charlotte, Hinesburg or Starksboro, with summer homes on the town-owned land.
At an October hearing, Charlotte resident Jane Lawlis and several others said the town plan defines Thompson’s Point as a place that should be preserved because of its scenic beauty and environmental quality. Others have said solar trackers constitute an industrial use not compatible with a conservation district where the panels were proposed.
The town planning commission was split on its support of the installation on Thompson’s Point, and most conservation commission members favored it after studying town regulations and public comments; they said it would not have an adverse impact on the area.
Thompson’s Point camp owner Robert Bloch echoed the comments of many of his neighbors when he said at Monday’s selectboard meeting, “The price of solar is plummeting; there will be other deals. We want renewable energy, but we don’t have to have it here.”
Although the public hearings ended Monday, more than two-dozen residents attended Friday’s meeting to hear the board’s opinion and decision.
Chairman Charles Russell polled each board member for his opinion.
Board member John Owen said, “I’m not in favor of this proposal. We have been doing this to show that the town supports alternative energy. We will have a lot of opportunities.”
Winslow Ladue said he could not support the project at the location on the southwest corner of the intersection of Flat Rock Road and Thompson’s Point roads.
Ed Stone said he was against that location as well as another one proposed on the east side of the intersection.
“I will not support it,” Dennis Delaney said. He praised Russell for his efforts to vet the proposal. “You can be sure that the Selectboard acted in the best interest of Charlotte,” he said.
Russell voted in favor of the project and said he thought there was townwide support for it. “I’m voting yes to support the people in town who favored it,” he said. “We have learned that we weren’t crazy to consider this project on Thompson’s Point.”
Owen said he would like the town energy committee to explore other possibilities.
After Friday’s meeting, project opponent Lawlis said she was glad that both Thompson’s Point leaseholders and other town residents had come to the hearings and the board had listened.
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