State regulators have denied approval of a proposed 145-kilowatt solar array after opponents successfully argued it would ruin views from atop Mount Philo.
The project, proposed by Peck Electric, would have consisted of 650 ground-mounted solar panels — each 9 feet tall — laid out in rows of seven. The array was to be just off Route 7, less than a mile from Mount Philo.
The town of Charlotte and the Agency of Natural Resources opposed the project in proceedings before the Public Utility Commission (formerly the Public Service Board). The regulatory body agreed the array would detract from the view from Mount Philo.
The aesthetics of energy projects are one of the criteria that can trigger a review by the commission.
Mount Philo State Park is the state’s oldest public park and draws roughly 50,000 visitors annually, according to filings with the commission, making it a significant economic driver for Charlotte and a resource that both the town and the state have invested heavily in maintaining.
The hearing officer in the case, attorney John Gerhard, agreed.
“As viewed from Mount Philo’s peak, the Project would be out of context with its surroundings and would significantly diminish the scenic qualities of the viewshed from the Park,” Gerhard wrote in his decision.
The project could not be moved east out of the viewshed because of wetlands. A stand of trees intended to shield the array was deemed insufficient to protect the view from Mount Philo, according to the filings.
Charlotte Town Administrator Dean Bloch said the town is pleased with the outcome and believes it will protect the park for residents and visitors.
Jeff Peck, president of Peck Electric, said in a statement that he respected the Public Utility Commission’s process but was disappointed in the outcome.
“Peck Electric works hard to accommodate local concerns when planning projects like this one, and we genuinely believed this was a well-sited and well-planned solar array,” he said.
The project was relatively small, taking up less than an acre, and was to be positioned next to the highway, Peck said. Though it would have been visible from the top of Philo, he said, “It would not have detracted from the view in any significant way — if anything, I believe a small-scale clean energy project would have complemented the vista, and serve as a small visual representation of the value that Vermonters place on buying locally produced clean energy.”
Peck said his company is exploring its options but has not decided on the next step. The commission’s decisions can be appealed through the courts.