Five new solar arrays proposed in Ferrisburgh; officials push back

FERRISBURGH — Facing a batch of new solar array proposals, the Ferrisburgh selectboard earlier this month sent out a letter of “non-support” to a proposed 480-kilowatt array on the new Dollar General property on Route 7, and board chairman Steve Gutowski said the board will oppose two other nearby arrays.
Those two proposals, both also near the intersection of Route 7 and Monkton Road, call for a 494-kW expansion of the Ferrisburgh Community Solar Project next to Vergennes Union High School and a 500-kW array just north of the American Legion clubhouse and east of Country Home Products’ headquarters.
Meanwhile, two smaller Ferrisburgh solar installations have been proposed, one on Greenbush Road and the other on Pea Ridge Road, although Gutowski said the selectboard is less concerned about those.
And neighbors of the recently installed Basin Harbor Club 150-kW array have appealed it to the Public Service Board, which oversees solar array installations, and to the Vermont Supreme Court. According to neighbors, the Supreme Court was set to hear oral arguments on the case at 1 p.m. on Monday.
As in the case of all Vermont solar arrays, the PSB has the final say on their approval and any conditions attached to their installation.
Officials in Ferrisburgh, as has been the case in New Haven, Rutland and many other Vermont communities, believe towns should have more say on where, how and how many solar arrays are erected. Many towns, including Ferrisburgh, have signed Rutland’s petition to the Legislature requesting more local control.
“First of all, we do not oppose solar or renewable energy. I definitely want to make that point,” Gutowski said. “What we are opposed to is what all those towns who signed the Rutland Initiative were, the lack of control over the siting of those installations.”
Revisions made the past Legislative session did create statewide setbacks for solar arrays, give towns some say on screening and landscaping of projects, and establish a “task force” to study the process. Ferrisburgh officials said they had not yet studied the updated law, but the Vermont League of Cities of Towns has come out and said the changes are inadequate to address towns’ concerns (see related story).
Gutowski said the Ferrisburgh selectboard’s main focus is the clustered proposals near the intersection of Monkton Road and Route 7.
He noted that at least one organization has designated Route 7 as a scenic corridor between Shelburne and Middlebury, and the board’s June 2 letter to Dollar General project developer Aegis Renewable Energy states that adding the new panels in the area “will give approximate solar panel coverage” of 9 acres in the vicinity.
“It’s a lot of panels in a compact area right on Route 7, very visible to the public and the people that are coming in, the tourists,” Gutowski said. “It’s just an extreme visual impact.”
The proposal for the Ferrisburgh Community Solar Project, owned by Burlington developer Ernest Pomerleau, would add panels that would stretch south to property owned by the Addison County Eagles Club.
Paperwork filed for the Dollar General project does not show a final site, but lists a “possible site” to the east of and slightly south of the new store.
The third neighborhood project shows an array area marked just north of the Vermont Railroad tracks and about 200 yards east of Route 7. Its owner is listed as “HVT Solar,” and the developer as Encore Redevelopment LLC.
Gutowski said the selectboard is not concerned about the two other new projects, proposed for land owned by Clifford Harris on Greenbush Road and Irene Steady on Pea Ridge Road because of their rural locations and natural screening on the sites.
But town officials believe even those arrays should go through a town process that would give more direct and effective local input on their final design, Gutowski said, while adding there are also concerns about inadequate tax revenue and provisions for removal of arrays once they are no longer useful.  
“If they were to go through the permit process, there would be a lot of talk back and forth about exactly what the project was going to consist of,” he said. “It would go through all the conditional use review through the town. So that’s what we’re concerned about.”
Meanwhile, neighbors of Basin Harbor Club, most of them Mile Point residents, are seeking the removal of a 150-kW array on Mile Point Road.
The Vermont Supreme Court appeal, filed by resident Mary McGuire and family members, focuses in part on the PSB’s definition of an “average person” and how he or she is affected by solar arrays. A ruling in favor of the McGuires could undermine the PSB’s statewide logic in approving arrays.
At issue is the “Quechee test,” used by Act 250 officials and other Vermont zoning and development review boards to determine if a proposal would have an adverse impact on a neighborhood. Essentially, boards gauge whether a proposed development would offend “an average person.”
The PSB has maintained that someone directly affected by an array installation cannot be an average person. In its Nov. 25 approval, the PSB wrote, “As interested landowners, the Mile Point Neighbors are most likely to be impacted by the view of the Project, and therefore have an individualized perspective which, by definition, is different from the viewpoint of the average person.”
Elizabeth McGuire, Mary McGuire’s daughter, said family members believe precedent is on their side, noting that a Supreme Court case involving East Middlebury wind turbine installer Tom Halnon appears to set a different precedent:
“Interestingly, the Vermont Supreme Court took a different position on this issue. They did consider the impact a project had on a neighbor and held that a project would offend the sensibilities of the ‘average person’ if the project would be in the direct view from a neighboring residence, and would significantly diminish the neighbors’ enjoyment of the scenic view from their home.”
Neighbors also claim that Basin Harbor Club supplied the PSB with false information, something now being investigated by the Department of Public Service (DPS), and that the PSB failed to properly take into account the historic nature of buildings in the area.
Neighbor Suzanne Fay said in an email last week it was difficult to assess the status of the appeal. She said of the DPS investigation, “thus far it is being conducted without a hearing,” and although “numerous letters have gone back and forth to the PSB/DPS … the PSB has not responded to any and we have no idea what the schedule is for resolution.”
The historic issues are waiting on submission of historic site review and archaeological survey documents from the developer’s attorney, Fay wrote, with that timetable also unknown.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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