Don Chioffi, clerk of the Rutland Town Select Board, said while Rutland City has been called the solar capital of the state (thanks to a notable Green Mountain Power project), Rutland Town - a rural community of about 6,000 citizens is not ready adopt that moniker because of the impact large solar could have on the town's rural character.
"Like most of the rest of the state, we have been pretty much overwhelmed by the rapid expansion of the solar industry within our state and as the duly elected officials of our community, we have been attempting to get ahead of a steeply rising curve," Chioffi told the Senate Natural Resources Committee Thursday.
Chioffi said he does not oppose solar, but the town would prefer to site solar projects in locations that do not disturb the aesthetics of the local landscape. "We do not want this quality destroyed by unregulated and industrial solar," he told the committee.
The committee passed a bill Friday designed to lump solar projects into the same zoning process as other commercial development. Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, introduced S.191 this year.
The bill is not designed to stop solar projects, said committee Chair Bob Hartwell, D-Bennington. But lawmakers say something must be done to balance the state's renewable energy goals with the state's bucolic landscape, which includes giving towns a voice in deciding where solar projects are located.
"While it may be helpful for energy, it's not the most beautiful thing to look at," said Vice Chair Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden.
Chioffi said Rutland Town has been under pressure to adopt a zoning plan that includes solar in order to maintain the town's current agrarian landscape as the the solar industry moves in.
Environmental groups say anything that makes it harder to develop renewable power will delay the state from moving toward its goal of tapping 90 percent of its power from renewables by 2050.
Dylan Zwicky, a clean energy associate for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, said Rutland Town's working energy plan will put "new barriers at the local level, making it more difficult for folks to generate their own power." VPIRG supports an expansion of solar energy projects under the state's net metering program.
"We feel that if we're serious about addressing global warming, Vermonters need to be able to take steps to generate their own power," Zwicky said.
Lawmakers want to be sure town plans have been weighed as part the Public Service Board's review process of solar projects. Snelling is concerned about town review and public input for solar projects. She recently participated in a hearing for the 2.2 megawatt "Charlotte Solar Farm."
"It was very sad as a legislator to be sitting in the Charlotte public hearing on this project and feel like the voices of the people were not being heard," Snelling said.
The developer, a company from North Chelmsford, Mass., has not received a letter of credit from the Public Service Board. The project received a certificate of public good last January.