RUTLAND HERALD 07/31/19
By Keith Whitcomb Jr.
BRANDON — The town must hear from the public before it can adopt an “Enhanced Energy Plan,” that will give it more clout with the state over renewable energy projects.
According to the town’s website, public hearings on the proposed “Brandon Enhanced Energy Plan” will be held at the Brandon Town Hall at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 26 and Sept. 23. A draft of the plan is available online at bit.ly/0801EnergyPlan
According to the minutes of the July 15 meeting of the Brandon Planning Commission, the Brandon Energy Committee produced the draft with the help of Barbara Noyes Pulling, a planner at the Rutland Regional Planning Commission.
Regional planners have said in past interviews that having an approved enhanced energy plan gives the town in question “substantial deference” before the Public Utility Commission on applications for renewable energy projects. The plans must meet the requirements laid out by the state, but the regional planning commissions are the entities that look the plans over. Adopting the plans requires two public hearings be held.
“The Town of Brandon’s Energy Committee is hopeful that this document will provide energy benchmarking and a renewable roadmap for a more sustainable Brandon and, ultimately, a more sustainable Vermont,” reads the latest drafts “conclusion” section. “This Energy Plan is meant to be a living document that is updated with new data and, as technology advances, new roadmaps to reach Vermont’s 90% renewable energy goal by 2050. In order to measure impact in the short, medium and long term, the Energy Committee commits to annually reviewing the aforementioned energy policies and strategies and their impact on the town and its residents.”
Brandon is a relatively popular town for solar developers, with several projects having been proposed there.
“In Brandon, residents and businesses are currently producing roughly 3,414 MWh of solar power, which means we’re well on our way to the town’s renewable energy goal of 14,369 MWh by the year 2050,” said Planning Commission Chairman, Michael Shank, on Wednesday. “This is great news, we’re making solid progress. Yet there are compelling reasons for going above and beyond the state’s 2050 goal-setting.”
He said a shift away from fossil fuels would lead to better air quality.
“A shocking 200,000 Americans die prematurely each year from exposure to dirty fossil fuels and dirty air, so by switching to cleaner renewables we can keep more Vermonters alive and well. That should be a priority for all of us,” he said, adding that a shift to renewables would insulate against shifts in the oil market and decentralize power production, protecting against outages.
The current draft plan includes a questionnaire for renewable energy developers to fill out, but only if they intend to build something larger than 15 kW.
The plan also contains maps of areas where renewable energy facilities are preferred and where the town would rather not have them. It acknowledges there are areas, such as wetlands, where existing state and federal regulations would make development unlikely.
The plan calls for a viewshed analysis as well.
“In 2019, the Town of Brandon will undertake a community-wide viewshed analysis, to determine which scenic resources it’s keen to protect from development. Once that list of scenic resources is generated and included as an appendix to this plan, all proposed renewable energy generation development in these scenic resource areas shall have site specific aesthetic impact analyses completed by a certified landscape professional and paid for by the developer,” reads the plan.
“The recommendation for a viewshed analysis was included because Brandon residents are interested in protecting the town’s beautiful viewsheds and scenic resources,” said Shank. “But only if we’re able to partner with local professors to produce a viewshed analysis that is as thorough as Rutland Town’s, which also relied on university support, as part of a class project, and thus acceptable to the state, will it be feasible.”
Several other towns are working on enhanced energy plans, Rutland Town among them. Rutland Town’s viewshed analysis was done by students from Middlebury College.
“This plan is about creating a healthier community for everyone, and we welcome everyone’s participation in that process,” Shank said.