August 19, 2014
Opinions, Vermont

From the editor: A case of solar hubris

By Louis Varricchio | Addison Eagle | August 19, 2014 |

Middlebury – Lately, I’ve been wondering why Vermont is rushing so quickly to embrace every neighborhood solar- and wind-energy project that comes down the pike.

Several large-scale, solar-array projects are planned in New Haven (as well as in the Middlebury area) and they appear, to me, to be poorly thought out and wildly misplaced in both the agricultural and residential areas in which they are planned.

When I think about why Vermonters disliked billboards enough to have a law passed to forbid them way back in 1968, I wonder—where’s the uproar about the new eyesores, the so-called community solar and wind projects, popping up on formerly pristine green fields.

Why are many of us so touchy about building things that don’t “fit” into the Vermont landscape—such as a large commercial building or even a chain restaurant—yet turn a blind eye to the mad rush to build “community” solar array projects in places where—I honestly believe—they are no less a blight than a pre-1968 Vermont billboard or a Wal-Mart style big box store.

A case in point is SunCommons’ own Community Solar Array project planned along Dog Team Road in New Haven.

This editor believes that the proposed “solar farm,” located on private property near the entrance to Riverbend Campground, is completely out-of-place for the quiet rural neighborhood in which it is planned.

Curiously, the proposed site is also just beyond a 200-feet-deep commercial-zone corridor along U.S. Route 7. Was this an oversight by SunCommon? Did the company know or bother to find out about the commercial zone corridor that existed (it may have served their CSA project better)? Should local planning boards be left out of the process leading up to a proposal of a CSA in their communities? And who thinks that a “community” solar array is not, in the end, a commercial, for-profit enterprise?

o add insult to injury, neighbors were alerted of SunCommon’s intent via what looks like an impersonal form letter.

No one living in the vicinity of the proposed electric power array, located at 1195 Dog Team Rd., was ever asked what they thought about hosting the big array in their viewshed. I wonder if SunCommon needs a lesson in community public relations? And just because one landowner is willing to host a SunCommons Community Solar Array on his or her property does not imply that the entire ”community” must embrace it either lovingly or without protest.

(As an aside: Since I like plain, honest language, I prefer to call these “solar farms” power plants. Since solar P.V. arrays collect solar energy and convert it into electricity, it sounds just like a power plant; thus, the term “solar farm” is nothing more than a euphemism that makes things sound ever so cuddly and friendly. We all love farms, right?)

Regarding Dog Team Road residents Dale Hastings and Jess Whitney: they certainly do not welcome the SunCommon Community Solar Array in their neighborhood. They point out to local officials that it is not zoned for a commercial solar power operation. And then what about their individual property rights living in the vicinity of these large-scale arrays? Hastings and Whitney don’t dislike solar power per se, but they do dislike not having input in the process.

During late July and early August, the couple contacted everyone from Vermont’s two senators and sole congressman, to State Sen. Claire Ayer and other local representatives. The only state official to respond was State Rep. Harvey Smith of New Haven. Smith recently visited Hastings and Whitney to learn more about the solar project.

According to the couple, it appears that centralized state law here regarding the building of “community” solar arrays supersedes local control. Is this true—do neighbors have no say?

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