By Lani Duke
Solar expansion ignites local flares
PAWLET—About two years ago, Northeast Community Solar had begun laying out a solar field on Route 30, north of Blossom’s Corner in Pawlet. The Vermont Public Service Board had granted the company a certificate of public good for the locally-funded, 150-kilowatt project, designed to provide power for nearby homes and businesses through group net-metering and to create local agricultural opportunities.
When the Pawlet Select Board met Sept. 1, Eric Street told the board he wants to prevent expansion of the solar field near Blossom’s Corner, saying conditions of the original installation have not been met, and presented evidence that there were no plans to expand the site when it was proposed. He asked the board how to prevent expansion.
Could be, there is no problem, or at least not the problem that Street and the others who came to the select board to request help in preventing. In the time between the permit’s granting on Sept. 28, 2012, and now, Northeast Community Solar changed hands. In a telephone interview Sept. 17, current owner David Russell said he has no plans to increase the size of the solar array in Pawlet. He is not currently building additions to the solar array.
There seems to be some confusion among solar projects in Vermont. Susan Hudson of the Vermont Public Service Board says that her organization approved a 125-kilowatt addition in Middletown Springs in September 2014, a project owned by Northeast Community Solar. Not his, says Russell.
Russell is disappointed in his relationship with the town, saying he has tried hard to open and maintain communications with the community as a whole and its individual citizens. Hearing from a third party that one of the neighbors across the road from the project had complained that the view was ruined, Russell drove to the house. Finding no one home, he left a business card and a note on the door. While standing on that front porch, he said that the householders could see a small portion of the project, and had planted lilacs, elderberries, and other vegetation to form a visual screen to hide the installation.
He also invited local farmers to graze sheep on the land under the solar array; as a former sheep farmer himself, he believes they can graze the land and keep it producing agriculturally. He said he is “furious” at what seems to him a lack of communication from the town, including a lack of response to his idea of converting unused quarries for solar generation.
Preparations for winter
As autumn descends, local communities get ready for winter. Pawlet’s select board is anticipating installing a heating system in the community’s town hall, built in 1881 and renovated for handicapped accessibility in 2010. Putting in a pair of heat pumps would allow use of the town auditorium in cold weather. Which heat pump designs will be in Historic Preservation Trust compliance is a concern.
Although the Pawlet Energy Group is considering a solar project at Mettawee Community School, the roof is deemed not to be in sound enough shape to support a solar array.
Wells is also looking at its preparations for winter. The select board has discussed covering the generator and air conditioner and relocating the sidewalk for safety reasons, to extend from the front of the building.
Middletown Springs plans to repair memorial stones in the local cemetery. This fall’s projects include re-setting about 30 leaning stones, gluing some six stones back on their bases, and repairing eight that have broken.
Construction bid negotiations
CASTLETON—A series of compromises secured the contract to build Castleton’s new police station for McClure Construction, a hometown company. Getting there required a series of adjustments. Over the previous month, the select board whittled away at the project; all eight bids had been too high for the $246,960 budget. McClure pared its initial bid to $265,181; All Seasons, to $294,273. The board trimmed away bulletproof glass at the entry, metal screen doors, some shelving, a chainlink construction fence and the construction field office trailer. The town will supply parking area gravel. The bond is gone.
If all goes well, the project will wind up just under budget, with less than $5,000 set aside for contingencies—that amount was originally budgeted at $24,000. Construction awaits Act 250 approval.