Neighbors petition PSB on solar array in Ferrisburgh

FERRISBURGH — A neighbor is requesting that the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) reconsider the Certificate of Public Good the board issued to the Basin Harbor Club for a 150-kilowatt solar array at 4800 Basin Harbor Road.

Project neighbor Mary McGuire filed a reconsideration motion on Dec. 9. It challenges the PSB’s Nov. 25 approval of the club’s proposal for 25 solar trackers, each of them 22 feet by 20 feet, to be installed on 1.5 acres. If that array is built, it will send power to the grid for which the club would earn credits on its Green Mountain Power bill on a net-metering basis.

According to the PSB’s Certificate of Public Good approval, McGuire is one of 22 neighbors who filed 33 comments in opposition to the project during the original process. They also asked the Ferrisburgh selectboard to take a position on the solar array, but the board declined, according to chairwoman Loretta Lawrence.

The PSB’s November approval notes that Ferrisburgh officials did not oppose the project: “The appropriate municipal legislative bodies and planning commissions were given timely notice of the application, and these entities have chosen not to participate in this proceeding.”

PSB clerk Susan Hudson said when the board received McGuire’s motion, it sent out letters to the other parties involved — the club, GMP, and the Department of Public Service, which advocates for ratepayers — seeking responses to the issues the motion raised. The deadline for those responses is Jan. 2.

Once that material is received, Hudson said the PSB would evaluate those responses and then determine its course of action.

“After the comments are filed we will review them and then decide what the next step will be,” Hudson said.

Hudson refused to describe what the process might look like once that review is complete or what options the PSB might choose from in responding to the motion from McGuire, who has addresses on Mile Point Road in Ferrisburgh and in Bronxville, N.Y. According to documents, her Ferrisburgh home sits 200 feet from the proposed solar array.

OFFENSIVE?

A key issue in McGuire’s reconsideration motion and in the original PSB approval is the “Quechee test,” which is often used in zoning and Act 250 applications. Boards use the Quechee test as a yardstick to determine whether a proposed development would offend an “average person.”

McGuire’s motion states:

“When Neighbor enters or exits her home she will be confronted with 25 moving solar panels each approximately the height and width of two UPS trucks stacked on top of each other. She will wake up to it every morning and see it from every bedroom window, every bathroom window, and every kitchen window. It is absurd to think that there is anyone — average or otherwise, educated about solar or uneducated — who would not find it shocking and offensive to see this solar monstrosity seven miles from the nearest town, adjacent to cornfields, pastures filled with grazing cows and the pristine shores of Lake Champlain. For these reasons, Neighbor contends the board erred in its finding that the project was not shocking or offensive to the average person.”

The PSB’s November decision to approve the array also addresses this issue, including one bone of contention for the project neighbors — that the array will be out of sight of club guests, but not of their homes.

The PSB decision states: “The project will introduce a significant built element into what is currently an open field. Therefore, we find that the project will be out of context with its surroundings. Accordingly, we determine that the project will have an adverse impact on aesthetics.”

But the board ruled that the array would not offend the “average person,” with language that included the following:

“The Mile Point neighbors cite the Basin Harbor Club’s decision to locate the project out of view from its guest facilities as proof that the project will be shocking and offensive. We do not dispute the Mile Point neighbors’ objection to the visual impacts of the project from the vantage point of adjacent landowners. However, in reviewing the aesthetic impacts of a project under Section 248, the board must determine whether a project’s visual impacts will be shocking or offensive to the average person. As interested landowners, the Mile Point neighbors are most likely to be impacted by the view of the project, and therefore have an individualized perspective which, by definition, is different from the viewpoint of the average person.”

ISSUES RECONSIDERED?

McGuire’s motion also cites a number of other issues that were also raised in the original process. They include:

•  Noting the town plan’s description of the Shoreland District states the developments, “should be ‘visually, functionally and physically related’ to Lake Champlain.” The motion takes issue with the PSB contention the project “will not significantly affect” the area in that regard.

•  Claiming the Ferrisburgh Town Plan encourages “small-scale” solar and other renewable energy projects, not larger solar arrays.

•  Stating the PSB “overlooked evidence presented by neighbors,” including a 2004 case involving a quarry and an access road that the motion argues should have been used as a precedent.

•  Claiming that proposed landscape buffering is inadequate between McGuire’s home, 200 feet from the proposed site, and from Mile Point Road traffic.

•  Stating that glare from the panels will affect pilots of planes landing at the Basin Harbor Club’s private airport at certain times of day at certain times of year, and that rain alone will not be enough to clean seagull waste from the panels.

PSB APPROVAL

The PSB’s November Certificate of Public Good approval included responses to those same issues. It states, “we have considered both the Mile Point neighbors’ comments and the materials submitted by the applicant and have determined that the project does not raise a significant issue with respect to any of the substantive criteria.”

Statements in that approval include that:

•  “The project is consistent with the energy goals of the Ferrisburgh Town Plan and that no portion of the plan prohibits the construction of the project within the Shoreland District.”

• “The applicant contends that even if the project is determined to have an adverse impact on aesthetics, the project’s impacts are not undue because the project does not violate a clear, written community standard, has employed reasonably available mitigation strategies, and is not shocking or offensive to the average person.”

•  “The project site is currently separated from Lake Champlain by a hedgerow, a road, and lakefront homes. In these circumstances, we are not convinced that the construction of a solar array will significantly affect the visual, functional, or physical relationship of the area to the lake.”

•  “We have carefully reviewed the portions of the town plan cited by the Mile Point neighbors and have not found any provisions that would qualify as a clear, written community standard intended to preserve the aesthetics of the area. The relevant provisions of the town plan do not prohibit all development in the Shoreland District but instead seek to ‘ensure that the Shoreland District is visually, functionally, and physically related to the lake.’ This language is general in nature and does not provide a clear standard for the board to apply. Furthermore, no party has demonstrated how the project would violate this provision.”

•  “The applicant has taken generally available mitigating steps that a reasonable person would take to improve the harmony of the project with the surrounding area.”

The approval also dismissed the concerns about glare off the panels and seagull waste on the panels.

Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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