Opinion: Legislature missing the mark on solar

Last week there was a public hearing in front of a joint Vermont House and Senate Energy Committee, in Montpelier. At issue was the degree to which there should be any regulation on the development of solar energy in Vermont, and what jurisdiction should be responsible for the regulations should there be any. The contentious siting issue is a byproduct of legislation (Section 248) that empowers the Vermont Public Service Board to approve solar projects without regard to local zoning rules and town plans.
The implementation of the legislation enabling the roll-out of solar energy projects in Vermont has created a wedge issue that pits people who have a near-religious view of climate change against other citizens who see the issue as compromising what they believe are God-given property rights as Americans and citizens of Vermont. It sets a younger generation of renters against an older generation of property owners.
Many of the people advocating for absolutely no regulation of the siting of solar projects were under the age of 30, an age below which most folks may find it hard to amass enough money to buy a home. For most people who own a home, it is their largest single investment, so it’s natural to expect them to fight for some regulations to protect the value of their homes.
By negating the most important protection homeowners had for defending the value of their property (zoning laws), the implementation of solar energy development through Section 248 via the PSB has created angst and chaos. That legislation created an imbalance in our society in which younger citizens with deep (and appropriate) feelings about the environment, but without the perspective of home ownership, are taking a free-rider position in the debate about solar implementation versus homeowners who may care deeply about climate change but feel threatened by the solar implementation process.
We used to have a social contract by which neighbors could live peaceably side by side. This contract is being shredded before our eyes. In a number of communities, legislative inaction in Montpelier has given neighbors reasons to fear one another.
By doing nothing to bridge the distance between the opposing camps, legislators have allowed positions harden into a win-or-lose battle in which there is no give on either side. The issue has deteriorated into a binary tug of war; either one is for solar as an intelligent way to combat climate change, or one is against the solar implementation process and is a knucklehead. One is either for no regulations on solar projects, or one is for total local control. The reality is that this not an either/or issue. Folks in the Statehouse in Montpelier have been derelict in their duties by not creating legislation that would create a middle ground acceptable to both sides of the debate.
Our legislators need to take action on siting standards now. Putting off legislation for another year will simply result in deepening the divide in the community.
Peter Rothschild
New Haven

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