Bennington select board votes to support Maple Leaf Solar project

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BENNINGTON — The Bennington Select Board heard a second presentation from Maple Leaf Solar on Monday, and voted to submit a letter of support for the project.

Earlier this month, the board heard a proposal from Charlie Grant, of Maple Leaf, for a new 500 kW solar project on Shields Drive, in the Maneely Corporate Park. The panels will be built on 4.2 acres of a 8.2-acre lot, currently owned by the Bennington County Industrial Corporation. The company, which is a subsidiary of Essex Capital Partners, has three other arrays in Vermont, one in Barton, one in White River Junction, and one in Jamaica.

On Monday, at the board's regularly scheduled meeting, Charlie's father Bob Grant was in attendance to clear up any other questions the board might have. Monday's meeting was the second of two required public meetings on the project.

Campbell said he had driven around Shields Drive, and felt the project was sited well. He did say, however, that he was looking for who would be responsible for decommissioning the panels, if it came to that. Grant responded that their Certificate of Public Good, which is binding and enforceable by the Public Service Board, requires them to pay for taking down the panels when the project permanently ceases operation. However, he said his company is planning on being involved in the site for the foreseeable future. "We're investing our own money in the ground," he said. "We're buying the site, we're long-term owners and operators of these facilities. We don't build them and then turn around and flip them to other people. We're a family business, and we're in this for the long haul."

Grant said his company builds the infrastructure at the sites to last, and be ready to adapt to changing technology. When board member Jim Carroll questioned how much of the manufacturing and installation of the solar panels was being done by Vermont companies, Grant said the electrician and site contractor that would be doing to project were from Vermont, and he is looking at Vermont contractors to install the racks. He said he did not know of any manufacturers of the parts that are based in Vermont.

Town planning director Dan Monks said the project is in line with both the town's solar ordinance and the new proposed town plan. The site will be enclosed by a seven-foot fence, which Grant said would be something more aesthetically pleasing than chain link. Additionally, if the company ever wants to develop more of that parcel for solar, it will have to begin the entire process over again.

Town Manager Stu Hurd said Maple Leaf was looking for the board to sign a letter of support for the project, which will be sent to the Public Service Board.

"Frankly, I see this can be viewed as a case study," said Chairman Tom Jacobs. "It's something that can be referred to by this and other boards as how it can be done. I think that the developer has played by the rules."

"The way it is now, we've written a town plan that pretty aggressively supports alternative energy," said Campbell, "and we're at least looking for appropriate places to put it in. I think this is a good project. It strikes me that, here's a business that wants to bring north of a million dollars to our town, they've done their homework, I'm satisfied with the siting, they want to buy the least desirable piece of property in this development. It strikes me that we should give them our blessing."

The board voted 4-1 in favor of sending a letter of support, with only John McFadden voting against, saying he needed more information before he could make a decision. Board members Sharon Brush and Justin Corcoran were not present for the meeting.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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