Guest column: The Chelsea Solar Project
The Chelsea Solar Project is a two-megawatt solar facility that has been proposed by Chelsea Solar LLC in the Town of Bennington. The location for the Project is a 27-acre parcel directly north of the Route 7 and Route 279 interchange within Town boundaries. This is a parcel that has been identified by the Bennington County Regional Commission as a "prime" location for a ground-mounted solar project. The Project utilizes ground-mounted solar modules to generate electricity for use on the local electric distribution grid. The Project will help the State meet its aggressive clean energy goals by transferring all renewable energy credits to the local Vermont utility.
On February 16, the Vermont Public Service Board denied a petition by Chelsea Solar for a certificate of public good to construct and operate the Project. We (Chelsea Solar) believe that this decision was made in error and that it reflects a departure from Vermont state law and established legal precedent. As such, we are pursuing a reversal of this decision.
We first notified the Town of Bennington of our plans for the Project in October of 2013. In January, 2014 and again in June, 2014, we sent formal notices and site plans regarding the Project to the Town. We held a public site visit and public hearing for the Project in October, 2014. The final technical hearing for the Project was held in July, 2015. Throughout this time, we were available to meet with the Town's Select Board to discuss the Project; however, the Select Board never expressed an interest in meeting with us. The Town did not choose to participate in the Project's case at the Public Service Board until very recently.
A significant amount of false information regarding the Project was presented at two meetings held by the Select Board in August, 2015. After being aware of the Project for almost two years, the Select Board hastily called these meetings to discuss and ultimately vote to oppose the Project. It appears as if the Select Board members took this vote without having reviewed the documentation for the Project on file at the Public Service Board. We were not invited or otherwise notified of these meetings. If we had been, we would have been more than happy to attend and share correct information regarding the Project. For example, we would have been able to explain that the Project is screened from public view due to the retention of over 200 feet of existing forest vegetation. (see visual simulation available at http://allcous.com/solar-projects/chelsea-solar/)
The Select Board filed a letter with the Public Service Board in October, 2015 requesting that the Project be denied, "because of the inevitable damage to the environmental, safety, visual, and aesthetic values of the natural and historical surroundings around the two project sites in northern Bennington." The Town did not send a copy of this letter to us. To date, we have received no questions, comments, or any other requests from the Select Board regarding the Project.
Community engagement is an important element to a successful energy project, but that can only happen if Town officials are willing to meet. Spending years on litigation and incurring costs of legal fees is in no one's interest, including the Town's. We would welcome a dialogue with the Town's Select Board about their questions, concerns, and suggestions for the Project. We've reached out to them with a fresh invitation to discuss possible adjustments to the Project site plan, and we remain available to meet, as we have been since October of 2013.
— Brad Wilson is a senior project manager at Ecos Energy LLC
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