To comply with state energy goals, Woodstock would need to contribute 41 acres of land to solar panels, according to a map made by Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission.
The map was drawn as TRORC works with other regional planning commissions in the state and the Public Service Department to identify land that could be used to meet Vermont’s goal of energy having 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.
The 30 towns that TRORC covers, extending from Plymouth to Newbury, would need to contribute 139 megawatts of new solar energy, 34 megawatts of wind energy and eight megawatts of hydropower in total, TRORC Finance Manager Dee Gish said.
“How that gets distributed is something we hope to plan,” Gish said.
Information was collected from the census, Green Mountain Power and other sources. The numbers aren’t set in stone because the regional planning commissions recognize some towns may be better suited for certain types of energy than others.
“It’s a give and take between the towns and the region and the state. We’re all hoping to work together to get the best outcome,” Gish said.
Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission GIS Manager Pete Fellows mapped the parcels most suitable for solar in Woodstock using elevation and compass information to find south-facing parcels.
Most of the appropriate land in Woodstock includes the highly visible hills of Taftsville along Route 4, where a controversial 500-kilowatt solar farm was proposed by a developer last spring. Triland Partners backed out amid backlash from the town.
“All of those slopes would work,” Fellows said, referring to the Route 4 corridor. “The only problem with those is that they’re highly visible.”
Some say solar panels shade the aesthetics of Vermont.
“Some people like to look at orchards. Some people like to look at solar panels,” Fellows said.
Fellows cautioned that the data wasn’t completely accurate because he has not physically seen the property he’s mapped. Elevation data points were collected every 32 feet.
It’s not known how the information will be used.
The commissions meet monthly. There will be a deadline and timetable in the next few months to draft a plan to meet Vermont’s energy goals.
Meeting the state’s goals is possible, studies have shown, but “it will require a lot of sacrifice on everybody’s part,” Gish said.
Woodstock planning commission chair Sally Miller presented the map at a recent commission meeting. Miller is closely connected to the work the regional planning commission is doing because she’s part of its energy committee.
“We’re so early in the study right now we have the big numbers but we haven’t put it down to individual towns,” Miller said.
She said some towns could take a higher proportion of the solar panel burden because their land would be more suitable.
Woodstock’s energy committee has tried to scout land most appropriate for solar in town, but have struck out due to the region’s hilly terrain.
The flatter land in Woodstock, where solar could go without clearing, tends to be in the river valley, Miller said.
Meanwhile, Woodstock’s planning commission wants to loosen the firm language in solar facility siting standards, the select board promptly passed in the spring when there was a threat of a 2,100-panel solar farm going behind the historic Taftsville Cemetery along Route 4.
The select board passed the ordinance hurriedly, even when the planning commission had hesitations, saying the document was too regulatory and the language didn’t make sense for Woodstock.
The standards establishes setback requirements ranging from 50 feet for a half-a-megawatt solar system to 200 feet for a system that’s 1.5 megawatts or greater. It prevents solar panels from being within 250 feet of existing cemeteries unless existing vegetation shields them and prevents solar projects from being located within any area designated on the National Register of Historic Places or within 500 feet of an historic building.
The planning commission wants to make the ordinance more advisory and better suited for Woodstock, Miller said. The commission wants to present the plan to voters in March.
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