Major solar farm proposed for Route 7 South in Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — A New Jersey company is proposing to build a 9,000-panel, 2.2-megawatt solar farm on 13.5 acres off Route 7 south in Middlebury, a project that would send enough electricity into the state’s grid to annually power 519 Vermont homes.
It’s a project being proposed by Champlain Valley Solar Farm, LLC (CVSF), which lists itself as being affiliated with the SunEdison office in Pennsauken, N.J. SunEdison is headquartered in Belmont, Calif.
The applicants are seeking a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board to proceed with their plan, which is being developed under Vermont’s Sustainably Priced Energy Development (SPEED) program, established in 2005 to promote development of in-state renewable energy resources. SPEED includes a Standard Offer Program that encourages the development of renewable energy projects by making long-term electricity contracts at fixed prices available to qualified renewable energy projects.
Champlain Valley Solar Farm was one of three solar projects to receive contracts through the Standard Offer Program in 2013. Officials with CVSF plan to formally apply for the required certificate of public good sometime next month. In the meantime, the company has been circulating its plans to get feedback from abutting property owners and Middlebury planners.
Laurie Mazer is senior project development manager for SunEdison. She has prepared an overview of the CVSF project describing many aspects of a solar farm that would generate more than twice the electricity as the 1-megawatt Ferrisburgh Solar Farm located near Vergennes Union High School off Route 7 north.
“Aside from long-term stable electricity rates, this project will benefit the broader Vermont economy in other ways — the payment of municipal and education taxes, employing Vermont consultants for the development work, and, where commercially feasible, purchasing project equipment from Vermont companies and employing Vermont businesses for construction and installation work,” a CVSF narrative, dated Feb. 7, states.
That narrative describes:
• A 13.5-acre project footprint within 20 acres of largely agricultural (hayed) land that would be partitioned from an approximately 109-acre field. The overall parcel, owned by Ruth Quesnel, is bordered to the north by Middle Road; private property to the south; private property along Route 7 to the east; and Halladay Road to the west. The eastern boundary of the project borders the Blue Spruce Motel and Suburban Propane, among other properties, and basically sits in back (to the west) of the Suburban Propane property.
SunEdison has an option to purchase the project site from Quesnel.
“CVSF selected this location based upon preliminary review of the solar exposure, existing site conditions, accessibility to public roads, three-phase power distribution, and minimal visual and environmental impacts,” the narrative reads.
• The proposed use of around 9,000 individual 330-watt solar panels mounted on a “rack system” comprised of roughly 550 racks. The racks will be set on driven steel foundation piles and hold the solar panels at a fixed angle of 15 degrees, to maximize solar collection. The developers anticipate no significant excavation, nor the need for precast concrete under the arrays. The top of the solar panels will be fixed at approximately 9 feet above grade, according to the narrative. The solar arrays are to be arranged in rows running east-west that range in length from around 950 feet to 150 feet.
• A “low-impact” project that will leave native soils in place, while vegetation will be maintained and periodically mowed. Plans call for a perimeter fence and a pad-mounted transformer structure to be included on the site. Developers anticipate it will take around 14 weeks to build out the solar farm.
A preliminary aesthetic assessment of the project completed by the company T.J. Boyle Associates LLC concludes the visual impacts would be minor.
“The low profile of the solar array is easily screened by existing vegetation and other obstructions that surround the project site,” reads a Feb. 6 report completed by Michal Buscher of T.J. Boyle Associates. “In views where the project will be visible, views will be backgrounded by landform and/or existing vegetation.”
John Zecher’s property at 2360 Route 7 south abuts to the south of the project area. Zecher also operates the Homestead Candle and Wreath shop at that same address. While he does not have major concerns about the project, Zecher said he’d like to see the developers insert some slats into the wire mesh fence that would surround the field, so as to further blunt the visual impact of the solar panels. He is not sure what effect the adjacent solar farm would have on his property value.
While the CVSF plan will not be subject to local review, the Middlebury Planning Commission has looked at the proposal and seen no major problems, according to Middlebury Zoning Administrator Ted Dunakin.
“The planning commission has reviewed this proposal and believes it’s an appropriate location,” Dunakin said. “The most important issue for the town is aesthetic impact and where these kinds of projects are located.”
Meanwhile, Addison County Regional Planning Commission Director Adam Lougee has also taken a look at the CVSF plans and see no major obstacles. He believes the project will be most visible from its northern approach.
“I don’t suspect we will receive significant comments on it,” Lougee said.
Mazer said SunEdison hopes to begin work on the solar farm this fall in anticipation of having it operational by the spring of 2015.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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