Proposed Pownal solar project draws criticism from residents


POWNAL — A proposed solar project has drawn criticism from residents whose concerns include the safety of a local water supply and the project's affect on property values.

About 20 people identifying as abutters or town residents on Monday visited the site where the Pownal Fire District No. 2 has proposed a 500-kilowatt solar array on land that's home to its pump and well head.

No action was taken at Monday's site visit or a meeting immediately following at the Solomon Wright Public Library. Members of the district's Prudential Committee, who contend the project along Route 346 would support the water system's operating cost, indicated they were open to other ideas for the 5,4 acre site.

"We look forward to hearing practical suggestions for this entity to earn money," Chairman Ray Bub said.

Attendees expressed concern over possible pollution from the array, a risk of fire or explosion, and long-term logistics with the array's maintenance and decommissioning. Also raised was the effect on property values, with at least one resident citing a figure of a 30 percent decrease.

"This will bring down the rural beauty of this town, to have a big industrial solar field in the middle of a gateway to Vermont," abutter Melissa Collins said, referring to Route 346. "You have to see the people don't want this here. If you're for us, for the community, hear us out and let us help."

Bub said that Pownal Fire District No. 2, an independent municipality that provides water for 143 households in the village of Pownal, has been considering a solar array on their well head site for almost a year. Members of the district's Prudential Committee recently began talks with solar developer Green Lantern Capital of Waterbury.

Members cited rising costs with no increase in revenue. Bub said members are reluctant to raise fees, which are currently a flat rate of $115 per quarter.

A contract with Green Lantern has yet to be signed, Bub said. A permitting process would take about four months from start to finish, he said.

Bub and other committee members were receptive to residents' comments, though questioned statements that the project would be unsafe.

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Regulations require a 125-foot buffer around the well head, Bub said, adding that the local site wouldn't be the first in the state to host an array.

"Solar is passive — it sits there and generates electricity," Bub said twice on Monday.

But attendees maintained they had reservations.

Collins and others said they spoke with many residents who had not heard about the project. Although, Prudential Committee members stated information was included in a previous water bill.

Some residents questioned whether alternative uses, such as farming, could generate revenue to give the district a safety net.

Several residents, including Collins and Michelle Pekrol, said they would be willing to help members come up with different ideas.

Other residents proposed the district seek grants and funding. But Bub said there were no grants available for operating costs.

Prudential Committee member Walter Moreau remembered working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, a storm that led to a pipe on Burrington Road being exposed. The district applied for emergency funds, he said, but indicated it wasn't a simple process.

"All of these organizations say they have funding. It's one thing to say its available, but it's another thing to get it," he said.

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979.


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