Editorial: Cornwall jumps into solar debate over West Street site

Cornwall residents last week were introduced to the intensifying debate over the siting of solar arrays. As noted in the lead story on today’s front page of the Addison Independent, about 15 Cornwall residents met to discuss the proposed 150kW solar array on West Street. SunCommon of Waterbury has proposed the site and by all accounts it was a respectful discussion, after which the selectboard responded correctly by scheduling a special town-wide meeting Aug. 11 to consider how the town should respond on this site and to the development of solar arrays in general.
At issue are similar concerns previously expressed by residents in New Haven and Ferrisburgh, as well as other communities, concerning the imposition on neighbors, the visual impact of the proposed solar array, and the public good solar power provides. Naturally, the neighbors abutting the proposed site are concerned. Those who don’t have to drive by the site daily, or live with it in their backyard, can discuss it in the larger context of a public good — just as the Public Service Board so frequently does.
Credit SunCommon, however, for bringing this latest project to Cornwall residents for consideration before filing for a certificate of public good with the PSB. By law, they don’t have to. That they did on this occasion helps create a respectful discourse with town residents.
As town residents in Cornwall take up the conversation, nonetheless, the vast majority of property owners are quickly beginning to realize that neighboring land to their homes are also likely candidates for a solar farm. Any acre or two can easily support a 150kW array of what is typically about 660 panels. Furthermore, they know that such “mini-solar farms” are popping up in droves because state policy seeks to increase current capacity substantially to meet state’s energy goals, which are supported by tax incentives and special treatment that allows solar arrays to avoid Act 250 and town zoning requirements.
The challenge for Cornwall, then, is to decide under what conditions it should embrace renewable energy projects. Not that Cornwall has the authority to reject a potential project, but the PSB does seem to be lending an open ear to towns that have an objective policy outlining objections and preferences for siting policies.
Town resident Barney Hodges III is right when he notes that solar arrays can be sited in intelligent ways that work for the community, the state and abutting property owners. The visual scale can fit within the landscape if done well, and adequate screening can help mitigate average sensibilities. Defining such a policy should be one of the end goals residents ponder at that August meeting. New Haven has done good work in that respect, and the regional planning commission can be helpful in sharing what it has discovered over the past couple of years.
Cornwall Selectman Dave Sears is not alone in his complaint that town residents have almost no say under current law in how solar developments are sited. It has been the sore point of most developments and of almost all communities. Those issues were only superficially addressed in a recently passed renewable energy law this spring, though those changes won’t go into effect for another year.
The West Street site in Cornwall site differs from others that have been controversial in one significant way: it is not on a major thoroughfare, and thus does not detract from the state’s aesthetic as projects do on highways like Routes 7, 22A, 30 or 125. Yet, the public’s larger concern is not the siting of a single project, but of looking ahead and imagining the development of numerous projects within the town over the next 20 years.
To that end, a PSB site review of a proposed 2,200kW net metering solar project with 10,500 solar panels on 20 acres on Field Days Road in New Haven will be held this coming Wednesday, July 15, followed by a public discussion at 7 p.m. at the New Haven Congregational Church with PSB board members. It’s an opportunity to gain insight into the PSB’s thinking and the process by which they consider these projects. Cornwall residents could learn from those insights, which can only help develop more insightful town policies.
Angelo S. Lynn

Share this story:

More News
News Uncategorized

Fresh Air Fund youths returning to county

The Fresh Air Fund, initiated in 1877 to give kids from New York City the opportunity to e … (read more)

Obituaries Uncategorized

Mark A. Nelson of Bristol

BRISTOL — A memorial service for Mark A. Nelson of Bristol will be held 1 p.m. on Saturday … (read more)

Sports Uncategorized

High school athletes ready for fall playoffs this week

See when your favorite high school team is competing in the fall sports playoffs.

Share this story: