Middlebury board delays vote on solar project

MIDDLEBURY — In addition to approving an agreement with Middlebury College that formalizes a property swap that will lead to new Middlebury town buildings (see story), the Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday agreed to get an opinion from New Haven officials before voting on a proposal that would make Middlebury the single consumer of electricity generated from a 150-kilowatt solar array that would be built on farmland at 1330 Twitchell Hill Road in New Haven.
It was earlier this month that representatives of the Acorn Energy Co-op introduced the proposed 650-panel solar project to the Middlebury selectboard. In exchange for signing a 25-year contract, the town would receive an estimated $1,500 to $2,000 annually in solar generation rebates from the project.
Acorn Energy Co-op Treasurer Russ Carpenter explained that his group is facilitating the project between Middlebury and Burlington-based Encore Redevelopment, which would build the solar farm after forging an agreement with the Twitchell Hill Road site, owned by Edward Gervais. The Vermont Public Service Board would review the project application and determine whether to award it a certificate of public good.
Carpenter hopes the project can be approved and built before the end of the year so that it can qualify for state and federal incentive programs for renewable energy projects.
But selectboard members, while supportive of the concept of the solar farm plan, said they want to receive feedback from their New Haven counterparts before approving the deal. The project would not go through a local permit review in New Haven, though the community and immediate neighbors will be invited to give input during the PSB review.
“I would hate to be promoting something that (New Haven) is not supporting at this time,” George said.
Selectman Brian Carpenter said he has been approached by a New Haven resident with questions about the project.
“I’m concerned about doing a Middlebury project on another town’s property,” he said.
Acorn officials explained that New Haven, unlike Middlebury, doesn’t have the electricity utilization rate to absorb the amount of the energy credit involved in the project.
“The amount of the credit over the course of the year will be between $50,000 and $60,000,” Russ Carpenter said. “We have talked to different towns in the county and relatively few of them have that much utilization to be able to absorb it.”
The selectboard has agreed to revisit the solar proposal at their next meeting, on Aug. 12.
In other action on Tuesday, the Middlebury selectboard:
•  Unanimously approved a series of proposed amendments to the town’s speed, parking, sign and traffic ordinances. Most of the changes were described by Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley as being updates, language tweaks or reflections of newly added roads. But the board did consider increasing the speed limit on the portion of South Street between Porter Field Road to the graveled portion of South Street Extension from the current 25 mph to 35.
Selectman Gary Baker made the motion, after hearing testimony from South Street resident Skip Brush. Brush said he believed a 25-mile-per hour limit — which was instituted last year in deference to speeding concerns voiced by area residents — was not warranted due to few homes along that particular stretch of South Street.
Hanley was asked to weigh in and said a recent speed study did not support a 25-mile-per-hour limit along that stretch.
Baker said he believed crosswalks along the road had successfully calmed traffic. Carpenter said he had not noticed a speeding problem along that portion of the road that would warrant the 25 mph limit.
But other board members said they were not prepared to support the speed limit hike without input from South Street neighbors, who in recent years have been very vocal about traffic, speeding and impending construction scheduled to their road.
“I don’t want to have the conversation without more people from that road here,” said board member Susan Shashok.
Ultimately, the board voted 3-3 on raising the limit, resulting in a failed motion.
•  Voted unanimously to approve a series of amendments to the town’s zoning bylaws. The board on Aug. 12 will hold its second hearing on what have been some more controversial proposed changes to language in the town plan that relate to the new town office/recreation facility project.
•  Received an update from Ilsley Public Library Building Committee Chairman John Freidin on ongoing efforts to size up the library’s space needs. He noted the panel is preparing a survey to solicit residents’ opinions on library services and needs. The panel is also organizing visits to other libraries and taking inventory of its own assets and transactions as it considers renovations to better accommodate its growth.
•  Reviewed fiscal year 2015 water and wastewater budget proposals.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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