RUTLAND HERALD 11/29/18
By Keith Whitcomb Jr.
BRANDON — The town Energy Committee is working on a list of properties ideal for solar development as part of an energy plan in development.
Committee Chairman Michael Shank said Thursday that the group has put an ad in The Reporter, a weekly newspaper that covers Brandon, Pittsford, Proctor, West Rutland, Lake Dunmore, Leicester, Whiting, Sudbury and Goshen, seeking land owners willing to have their property listed as a preferred site for solar projects.
Shank said the committee is drafting a questionnaire for solar developers aimed at giving developers a good idea of what the town is looking for in a solar project.
Brandon is no stranger to the solar development process. Babcock Solar LLC, backed by a New Jersey firm, recently pulled a 2.2 megawatt proposal that had been met with stiff local opposition. Davenport Solar LLC, a 15 megawatt facility, has filed with the PUC. That project appears to be getting a warmer reception. The regional planning commission recently submitted a letter to the PUC saying the project conforms with the regional energy plan and so far there’s been little legal movement from intervenors.
Shank said the Energy Committee was formed by the town Planning Commission during the summer in response to Act 174, a state law passed in 2016 that gives towns more leverage with the Public Utility Commission.
The Public Utility Commission is the state body that grants permits to renewable energy projects, among other things. The PUC’s authority trumps local zoning laws. Shank said towns weren’t happy with how much say the PUC had over energy projects and pushed the Legislature to give their concerns and desires more weight, resulting in Act 174.
Shank said if a town goes through the necessary hurdles of creating an Energy Plan, said plan will be given substantial deference during a PUC proceeding.
Once the Energy Committee is finished, it will send the Energy Plan to the Planning Commission for approval.
The Planning Commission then sends it to the Select Board, Shank said. Before the Select Board can approve it, two public hearings must be held.
According to Dan Potter, environmental policy and program analyst for the Department of Public Service — the entity that serves the PUC’s administrative and bureaucratic functions — the plan would then go to the Rutland Regional Planning Commission for final approval.
Potter said that when Act 174 was passed, towns had a short window of time to send their plans to the PUC directly for final approval. Sudbury and Benson were the only two that did this.
Since then, 10 other towns have had their Energy Plans approved by their respective regional planning commissions, which offer technical support to towns in creating the plans.
Potter said about 100 towns statewide are in the process of crafting an energy plan. Generally, it takes about a year to get one done, as they don’t just cover the siting of solar facilities but other types of energy as well, he said.
How fast a town moves is up to the town. Some may work faster if they’re being eyed by many developers, he said.
Shank said in Brandon the hope is to have the Energy Plan done by spring. He said Brandon is looking to comply with the state’s overall goal of having 90 percent of its power needs met by renewables by 2050.
The other towns in Rutland County currently working on their energy plans are Rutland Town and Wallingford, said Barbara Noyes Pulling, senior planner with the Rutland Regional Planning Commission. Noyes Pulling is also chairwoman of the Rutland Town Planning Commission.
Also, Shank said in Brandon the Energy Committee is working with Efficiency Vermont to put on energy related workshops.
Efficiency Vermont is a group created in 2000 by the PUC to increase energy efficiency in the state, according to its website.
A home energy workshop was held in Brandon on Nov. 3, Shank said. From 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Jan. 12 at Brandon Town Hall, another workshop related to cold climate heating pumps will be held, Shank said.
With regards to the questionnaire, Shank said other energy plans he’s seen have something similar but written in the form of criteria. He said legally they don’t hold much weight, but they do give a developer a sense of what to expect if they try to build in Brandon.