By Stephen Seitz
TAFTSVILLE – A proposed 500-kilowatt solar panel project along Route 4 in Taftsville won’t go forward after all.
As recently as April, Tom Garden, the managing partner of Boston-based Triland Partners, had laid his plans out in an official communication to the Town of Woodstock but has since canceled the project, according to opponent Charles Wilson.
“Tom Garden officially terminated his contract to purchase the land,” said Wilson, who is head of the Taftsville Cemetery Association and a member of Woodstock’s development review board. “He’s giving up any idea of developing the land. He’d say he’s listened to community concerns.”
Attempts to reach Garden for comment were not successful.
Instead, the 15 acres will be purchased by the cemetery association. Wilson said most of the money, about $200,000, came from individual contributions.
“We had a nice donation from California,” Wilson said. “His father is buried in that cemetery. But most of the contributions came from Woodstock, some 80 or 90 percent. This was indeed a community effort.”
Wilson said the real estate agent handling the transaction had accepted the cemetery’s offer.
“We have asked for a covenant that guarantees the land’s permanent uses for cemetery and agriculture,” he said.
According to Triland’s filing, the solar array would have been placed at the northern end of the parcel, covering between three and four acres. The rest of the acreage would have remained as it was, with routine maintenance and mowing. Triland said that extra planting would have been done to enhance the property’s aesthetics. A seven-foot mesh fence was planned to surround the array for safety and security reasons.
The benefits, according to Triland, would have been substantial energy savings for members of the net meter group in the area, tax payments to Woodstock, adding jobs, and using more renewable energy.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, Vermont currently has 72 solar companies, employing about 1,000 people. Some 38 megawatts of solar energy went online in Vermont last year, bringing the number of solar-powered homes to 8,100. The association said Vermont invested $76 million in solar power in 2014, and was expected to invest more this year. The group also noted that the prices for installed commercial and residential solar fell by 30 percent last year, a trend that’s expected to continue.
Gabrielle Stebbins, the executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont, said that overall, the idea of renewable energy is popular in Vermont, and to have some people question the merits of such projects is to be expected.
“It’s much better for developers to reach out to the community beforehand, to see what the objections might be,” she said. “If the objections can be resolved in advance, the developers can make it better. Most people would rather have more clean energy. Vermonters are independent-minded, and we prefer to rely on ourselves.”
Stebbins added that those who oppose certain projects tend to be more passionate and more likely to show up at gatherings than supporters.
“Who’s more likely to come to a meeting?” she asked. “A soccer mom who’s been wrangling three kids, or someone with passion about a project? Overall, though, there is incredible support for renewable energy in Vermont.”
Renewable Energy Vermont’s website offers a consumer guide on solar energy, as well as a fact sheet, solar power FAQs, and links to the U.S. Department of Energy, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Vermont Renewable Energy Atlas, which offers guidance for evaluating your home’s potential for solar energy, and other information.
Visit www.revermont.org for full information.