Vermont is the nation's leader in solar jobs per capita. But solar's growth is not so bright for those near the state's so-called "Solar Capital" in Rutland, who say they are struggling to keep up with the burgeoning industry.
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.
Chioffi testified before the Senate Natural Resources Committee on 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 said.
The committee passed a bill Friday that would put solar projects in the same zoning process as other commercial development.
The bill is not designed to stop solar projects, said committee Chair Bob Hartwell, D-Bennington. But lawmakers say the state's renewable energy goals must be balanced with the state's bucolic landscape, and that includes giving towns a voice in deciding where solar projects are located.
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.
"We feel that if we're serious about addressing global warming, Vermonters need to be able to take steps to generate their own power," said Dylan Zwicky, a clean energy associate for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
Lawmakers want to be sure town plans are weighed as part the Public Service Board's review process of solar projects.