solar project

The Allco Renewable Energy 2.2-megawatt Battle Creek solar project is behind the Home Depot center in Bennington. The similar-sized Chelsea Solar project proposed for the Apple Hill area remains stalled in the permitting process, despite numerous attempts over more than eight years.

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BENNINGTON — An expected Select Board discussion Monday involving the developers of the controversial Chelsea Solar project has been postponed.

Town officials said this week that the change comes at the request of the developer, Allco Renewable Energy Ltd., and the board now expects to discuss the project at a meeting in May.

In November, the town Planning Commission rejected a request from the company to determine that a newly revised project design would make the site on Apple Hill a “preferred location” under the town plan for solar facilities.

That would be done through moving the array to take advantage of an existing tree line, lowering the grade of a section of the project site and other changes to screen the array from view, the developers said.

The commission made its determination in November after hearing comments over two meetings from the developers, consultants and many of the neighbors who have vigorously opposed the 2-megawatt capacity project since it was first proposed more than eight years ago.

The proposed site is on Apple Hill, a prominent scenic location to the east of Route 7 as it climbs toward Shaftsbury.

Chelsea Solar and a similar-sized project called Apple Hill Solar have each failed to receive a certificate of public good permit from the state Public Utility Commission, despite several attempts. Denials have been based on the potential effects on a scenic area that is also in the town’s rural conservation zoning district.

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Allco Renewable Energy has mounted appeals of negative permitting decisions regarding both projects to the PUC and to the Vermont Supreme Court, while also at times filing lawsuits against opponents over site access routes and other issues.

While the Planning Commission rejected the developer’s argument that revisions to the Chelsea design would provide greater screening of the array, creating a preferred solar site, its role is only to recommend to the Select Board on how to comment to the PUC.

After some debate, the Planning Commission voted in November to issue a recommendation to the Select Board saying that, based on the information presented by Allco, it could not determine that the site would meet the town plan definition of a preferred site for energy projects.

The Select Board will make any comments to the PUC on the project on behalf of the town. The board could accept the commission’s recommendation or consider making alternative comments to the PUC.

Thomas Melone, president of Allco Renewable Energy, could not be reached Friday for comment on the postponed discussion, nor concerning a reported cash settlement offer the company has discussed in general terms with project opponents.

Members of the Apple Hill Homeowners Association also have declined to comment on the situation.

Jim Therrien can be reached at or by phone at 413-281-2646.


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