Brandon neighbors angry at solar plan

BRANDON — No one wants to see a lawsuit, but it’s not out of the question regarding a plan by a Brandon couple to install a solar array on their property in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood.
Six neighborhood property owners attended a pre-hearing conference of the Public Service Board on Dec. 16 at the Brandon Fire Station to air their concerns about the proposed project. PSB utilities analyst Greg Faber, acting as the hearing officer, ran the conference. He asked abutting landowners to state their grievances
“I’m concerned about what this is going to do to property values and how it doesn’t fit with the rural character of the area and how it violated the existing covenants in Mount Pleasant,” said Ann Bransfield, a neighboring property owner.
Jim and Karen Emerson have applied to the PSB for a certificate of public good to install a 12-foot-by-12-foot solar array next to their home on Prospect Street.
The PSB is a three member, quasi-judicial board that supervises the rates, quality of service, and overall financial management of Vermont’s public utilities. It has jurisdiction over all energy-related endeavors, including electric, gas, telecommunications, private water companies, nuclear, wind, solar and hydroelectric power. The board also reviews the environmental and economic impacts of proposals to purchase energy or build new energy-generating facilities, such as the Emersons’ proposed project.
While only three of the six parties attending the conference were abutting landowners and therefore entitled to party status in the case, three others may file a motion with the PSB to intervene in order to have their concerns be heard and considered parties as well.
While all of the Mount Pleasant property owners at the conference said they supported the use of solar energy as green technology, no one wanted to see it in their backyard.
“I commend the Emersons for the use of alternative energy sources,” said Marge Munger, whose property abuts the Emersons’ to the west. “But I am concerned about aesthetics and the covenant of Mount Pleasant.”
The neighborhood was first established in 1967 after William and Nona Peck conveyed their Mount Pleasant Farm into a development. With that conveyance came a set of strict easements and rights, conditions and restrictions called a covenant. Many of those restrictions have to do with aesthetics. For instance, no mobile homes are allowed, nor are clotheslines unless screened from public view. Property owners are not allowed to park, keep or maintain unregistered vehicles unless they are in an enclosed garage. Grass, weeds and brush are to be kept trimmed at all times. Also, all of the utilities are below ground, so there are no power lines overhead. That is because the covenant dictates that “any outdoor installation above the surface of the ground for the transmission of electricity for any purpose, including but not limited to telephones and television” is prohibited.
A case could be made stating that the Emersons’ solar plan violates that part of the covenant, as many for the neighbors have said. But the Emersons plan to generate electricity, not necessarily transmit it. And the point is moot, because the PSB is beholden to state statute and its own set of rules and guidelines, not the covenants of a housing development, or even the local zoning ordinance.
Another concern the neighbors have is the precedent the case may set if approved.
“If you let it go through, I’ll build a big one the size of a movie theater,” said Mount Pleasant resident Lary Fusco. “It’ll detract from the rural nature and the natural beauty of the area.”
“I applaud the technology,” said Mount Pleasant developer Tom Whittaker. “But I question the wisdom of the size of the panels and spreading the idea. It’s like everybody will want their own cow so they don’t have to go to the store for milk.”
Whitaker also said there are an additional 23 lots to be developed past the Emerson’s house.
“Everyone who buys there will have to go by this less than attractive structure,” he said.
In his defense, Jim Emerson said he understood the concerns of his neighbors and will do everything he can to block the view of the array from other properties.
“I would be willing to consider other options such as a fence to make it an exemplary installation,” he said.
A roof-mounted array was proposed, but Emerson acknowledged that he had not contacted the electric company about that particular presentation, saying the array would be far more conspicuous on the roof.
Fusco commented that he was still irked by what he considered a violation of the covenant.
“I don’t want to have to get attorneys in on this,” he said. “I hope we can hammer this out with a little common sense.”
Faber said a property owner has the right to file a lawsuit, but it would not be settled before the PSB rendered a decision in the case.
In the meantime, the Emersons failed to notify abutters Robert and Louise Marrier and must do so before the PSB proceedings can move forward. Faber said he would wait one week for the Marriers to be notified before he makes a determination regarding who receives party status and schedules an evidentiary hearing.

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