Cornwall is drafting solar array siting rules

CORNWALL — Cornwall officials will soon draft an interim zoning bylaw prescribing some local standards for the siting of solar projects within the community.
The board made that decision on Aug. 11 after hearing a variety of public comments about solar siting in general, and about a specific project that is being proposed by SunCommon on property at 2838 West St. That proposed 150kW project would feature 660 solar panels serving around 30 families through the SunCommon’s “Community Solar” program. Several residents turned out at a previous selectboard meeting back on July 7 to voice concerns about the potential visual impacts of the West Street solar proposal. Others urged town leaders to develop a policy that might give the community some say in the siting of future solar proposals in town.
Historically, the Vermont Public Service Board has permitting authority over renewable energy proposals in the state. While town officials and neighbors can provide feedback to the PSB on specific solar, wind and hydro projects, such proposals do not have to undergo local permitting review.
The Vermont Legislature did, however, pass a law earlier this year to give communities more input in solar energy projects pitched within their borders. That law, Act 56 (also known as H.40), in part established a 10-member Vermont Solar Siting Task Force, whose duties are to “study the design, siting, and regulatory review of solar electric generation facilities and to provide a report in the form of proposed legislation with the rationale for each proposal.”
The law also gave communities permission to adopt interim bylaws prescribing local standards for setbacks and screening. The local screening requirements can’t be any more restrictive than those applied to commercial development in the community.
“The selectboard is putting (bylaws) together very quickly,” board Chairman Ben Wood said. “We can make it and adopt it quickly.”
Cornwall will use as its guide the New Haven Town Plan and a template for interim bylaws that has been drafted by the Addison County Regional Planning Commission. The town of New Haven has become a hub for solar projects and has been very vocal in advocating for changes in the review process for green energy proposals.
Wood noted the interim bylaws would sunset in two years.
“It gives us a chance to put out something now that the PSB needs to pay attention to,” he said.
Cornwall’s selectboard will next convene on Tuesday, Sept. 1. Wood said representatives of the town’s planning commission will be invited to that meeting to provide their feedback for the new interim bylaws.
It’s clear that a lot of people in Cornwall care about solar energy and where such projects are sited. The selectboard’s Aug. 11 meeting drew almost 50 people, including representatives of SunCommon, neighbors of the West Street proposal and other townspeople.
“Everyone was able to speak,” Wood said.
Among those speaking were Stephen Payne, owner of the 2838 West St. property; Daniel Cooperrider, an immediate neighbor of the proposed project; and Duane Peterson and R.J. Adler, co-president and Addison County solar organizer, respectively, of SunCommon.
“The turnout was impressive and the community discourse was thoughtful, respectful and productive,” Adler said. “We got some great community feedback on how to move forward with the (West Street) project, and more importantly Cornwall residents discussed how to best move forward in placing larger projects like this one. The landowner and neighbor of our proposed Cornwall project attended and committed to working together to make this community array work. We’ll continue to work with them to finalize the placement and screening before applying for a Certificate for Public Good from the Public Service Board.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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