Vermont town fights back against lakeside solar development

LAKESIDE SOLAR: Residents of Morgan, Vermont, are pushing back against a 500-megawatt solar array to be built along Seymour Lake.
While a handful of communities are busy fighting industrial wind-turbine projects, the town of Morgan is doing battle with the Public Service Board over a five-acre field of solar panels.

The town has a litany of environmental, economic and aesthetic concerns about the 500-kilowatt project called Seymour Lake Solar, which consists of an array of 100 18-foot solar tracker panels.

Last week, the town asked the PSB to reconsider its recent issuance of a certificate of public good to the project’s developer, David Blittersdorf, who has been one of the primary drivers of renewable energy projects in Vermont in recent years.

Also filed were seven affidavits citing what the documents called the PSB’s thus-far unkept promise of a public hearing. The affidavits say PSB Chair James Volz stated repeatedly during a site-visit in July that all questions and concerns would be addressed at a special hearing.

“The PSB has violated the due process rights of the town by failing to hold a hearing after the town filed substantive comments that should have met the requirements of the PSB to get a technical hearing,” local resident Candy Moot wrote to Watchdog. “The board’s chair said repeatedly that people could bring their issues up at ‘the hearing.’”

Judith Whitney, clerk of the Public Service, Board, told Watchdog that as policy the PSB does not comment on projects that are considered an open docket.

Moot owns property on Seymour Lake that is 2,112 feet away from the proposed solar site. She said her main concern is additional runoff into the lake.

“When you add 42,000 square feet of impervious surface, you cannot tell me you are not going to impact the water quality that goes through the wetlands,” said Moot. “That goes into the tributaries and eventually dumps right into our lake.”

Selectboard Chair Larry Labor said the town’s own planing document has been largely disregarded by the PSB. That plan, which was specifically updated to address alternative energy, supports renewable projects at a residential scale but not for commercial/industrial scale.

“When it comes to the solar farm that this developer wants to install, it’s in violation of our town plan,” he said. “It disrupts the view and it’s highly questionable the effects this is going to have on our environment and the quality of water in our lake.”

When Act 174 was signed into law earlier this year, supporters said it would ensure that the PSB gave “substantial deference” to policies outlined in town plans. Critics noted there is no obligation that the PSB follow through.

“As far as I’m concerned we’re not seeing it,” said Labor. “And I think it’s quite disrespectful of the PSB to just say ‘save it for the hearing’ and then never have a hearing. What kind of deference is that?”

The town isn’t the only interested party not hearing back from the PSB. The Agency of Natural Resources, the Division of Historic Preservation, the Department of Public Service and the Vermont Electric Cooperative submitted statements on the project in September 2015; none have received a response.

In that document, the groups write that “this development is considerably more intrusive than initially represented by the applicant. One hundred AllEarth (the manufacturer) Solar Trackers standing 18 feet tall is visually not a small project.”

Labor also cited concerns about the cost. Seymour Lake Solar is a group net-metered project, meaning it will be connected to the grid and the Vermont Electric Cooperative is required to purchase power at around 20 cents per kilowatt-hour. Labor said that VEC might have to dump existing contracts with Hydro Quebec at around 5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Andrea Cohen, VEC’s manager of government affairs confirmed that estimate.


SEP 27 2016
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