SHAFTSBURY — The residents of Holy Smoke Road are banning together to stop an “abomination” of a solar plant from being built in their neighborhood.
At the Shaftsbury Select Board meeting on Monday, the public comment section was filled with disgruntled residents who will be impacted by the 85-acre solar field that could be built in the town.
Earlier this month, representatives from VHB and SunEast Development made a presentation at the Select Board meeting to explain their plans for the piece of land.
Concerns were raised at that meeting, and the company’s representatives told the residents of Holy Smoke Road that adjustments could be made to the plans to better suit the needs of the town.
Resident Kit Auschnitz was present at the meeting and said he took the company up on the offer. Auschnitz tried to ask the company questions, but they didn’t have any answers, he said.
“It’s a misnomer to call this a ‘solar farm.’ That makes it sound all cute and nice,” said Auschnitz. “This is an industrial power plant.”
He believes the two “sales people for VHB” came to the Select Board meeting at the beginning of January to tick off a box on their checklist, but their plan is already formed and Auschnitz doesn’t think they’ll change it.
They’re using every inch of “usable land,” he said. The rest of the land they’re purchasing is forest. “They’re milking this for every penny.”
“The real gut punch is that they’re going to dirty someone’s backyard to provide power to another state,” said Select Board member Joe Barber. “None of us are against solar, but we want it done right.”
Barber doesn’t believe that the $100,000 tax credit the town will receive from the project is worth the pain it’s causing the community.
Lynn Stratton, another resident of the road, said not everyone from her street could attend the meeting, but everyone is in agreement. ”We’re beside ourselves. We’ll do whatever we can to fight this,” she said.
Auschnitz hopes the state will intervene since they’re the ultimate authority. Board Chairman Art Whitman said he spoke to state officials, and they told him the town zoning board can’t restrict solar projects. It’s also in the town plan that Shaftsbury will encourage solar energy.
In the end, the decision lies with the Public Service Board. Whitman said the Select Board and Planning Commission will be creating a joint letter to the PSB regarding the concern over what roads will be used during the construction process.
Holy Smoke Road is a dirt road that would be destroyed by the traffic and large trucks it will take to complete the solar panel project, they said.
Auschnitz countered by saying he believes the road conflict is a distraction from the abomination of a project.
For the solar plant to be placed on the upcoming Town Meeting ballot, the town requires a petition with 154 signatures supporting the cause, said Town Clerk Marlene Hall. The petition must be completed quickly because the ballots are being printed at the end of the month.
Even if the issue makes it onto the ballot, the outcome would only be a symbolic vote because the final decision is made by the Public Service Board.
Select Board member Martha Cornwell said the vote “may be the one piece of the puzzle that helps you fight the process.”
To help stop the project, Auschnitz announced the creation of a new group in Shaftsbury — Stop Shaftsbury Solar.
The dates of important meetings and links to relevant resources can be found at stopshaftsburysolar.org.