BENNINGTON -- Residents of Barney Road where a proposed 500-kilowatt solar project may be built expressed concerns about it to the Planning Commission Monday, but ultimately it's the state that has authority over it.
Planning Director Dan Monks said the project is proposed for a seven-acre piece of land owned by the town, which has entered a lease option agreement with Encore Redevelopment, a Burlington company. The power it produces will be fed into the grid, and the town will receive credit.
The project was placed on the commission's agenda at the request of Barney Road resident Christopher Wright. He said the commission had discussed it twice before, but one time warned it as a "Route 9" project, making residents of Barney Road think it did not concern them.
He said it appeared that the commission had recommended screening be placed on the Route 9 side of the project, but said nothing about screening from Barney Road.
Wright had numerous questions about who received notice of the project, from town boards and officials to abutters. He wanted the application disqualified because it had not been warned correctly.
Planning Commission Chairman, Barry Horst, said the town has no authority over the permitting of power plants. That power lies with the Public Service Board, the rules of which could govern notices.
The commission has received a notice of Encore's intent to file an application to the Public Service Board, which contains some preliminary data on the project.
Wright took issue with the fact that a developer proposing a power plant does not have to go through local zoning regulations. Commissioner Ken Swierad said the law was passed by the state legislature specifically to remove local control so companies would not have to navigate hundreds of local zoning bylaws.
The commission said repeatedly that it has no authority over the PSB or the legislature, however it would pass along Wright's concerns to the PSB.
Wright said the commission was the only place he and others had to air their questions and concerns. He wanted to know if local fire departments had been trained to handle fires at solar fields. The site, according to him, was also used by the Bennington Fire Department to practice fire fighting and as a result is contaminated by hazardous materials. Prior to that, he said, it was a prime wildlife habitat. He also wondered if the town would be liable for the contamination.
Monks said the land was mostly recently used by the town to dump dirt resulting from Tropical Storm Irene cleanup, and if it is contaminated then the town's liability would not increase if Encore does work there. The other issues, he said, would have to be taken up with the PSB.
Encore Redevelopment actually specialized in working with contaminated properties, and has eyed projects on Houghton Lane, and in Pownal.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.