Solar array rules up for review in Cornwall

CORNWALL — Cornwall residents on Thursday will get a chance to weigh in on a proposed bylaw that could give the community some control over future solar arrays pitched in town.

The Vermont Public Service Board has permitting authority over renewable energy proposals in the state. While town officials and neighbors can provide feedback to the PSB on specific solar, wind and hydro projects, such proposals do not have to undergo local permitting review.

But the Vermont General Assembly OK’d a law earlier this year that gives communities more input in solar energy projects proposed within their borders. That law, known as Act 56, gives communities permission to adopt interim bylaws prescribing local standards for setbacks and screening for ground-mounted solar arrays. The local screening requirements can’t be any more restrictive than those applied to commercial development in the community.

Cornwall’s interim bylaw would be in effect for two years, but could be extended. It would require, among other things, that:

•  Each project incorporate screening that breaks up the visual impacts of the array for neighbors and passersby on public highways.

•  Any project whose total footprint exceeds 25,000 square feet incorporate sufficient screening to ensure that the visible area of the project represents no more than 5 percent of the field of view from any point within a residence, any point within 150 feet of a residence, or any point on a public highway.

The mandated plantings must, within five years, reach the needed maturity to achieve the prescribed screening level. That screening must remain until the solar array is fully decommissioned.

•  Projects of 150 kW or greater must be set back at least 100 feet from the road. That setback standard drops to at least 40 feet for projects between 15 kW and 150 kW.

•  Projects generating more than 150 kW must be set back at least 50 feet from a neighboring property line, a threshold that drops to at least 25 feet for projects of between 15 kW and 150 kW.

•  The siting of the array “should be done in such a manner that the array creates no greater burden on neighboring property owners or public infrastructure than it does on the property on which it is sited.”

Ben Wood, chairman of the Cornwall selectboard, said Cornwall’s proposed interim bylaw was patterned after one that has been drafted by the town of New Haven. It also incorporates language suggested by the Addison County Regional Planning Commission. The selectboard also sought advice from the town planning commission.

He stressed the draft bylaw will be open to changes based on community feedback.

“We will give due respect to all opinions that are going to come up,” Wood said.

The new bylaw will take effect once it is approved by the selectboard.

The Sept. 3 meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the town hall.

A copy of the draft bylaw can be viewed at http://cornwallvt.com/minutes/select/solarscreeningbylawnotice.pdf.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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