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Brandon seeks details on solar plan

BRANDON — Brandon officials have asked representatives from Ranger Solar to attend the next selectboard meeting and answer additional questions about a massive 100-acre solar array the company plans to construct off Syndicate Road.
Brandon Town Manager Dave Atherton and selectboard Chair Doug Bailey met with Ranger Solar Development Manager Liz Peyton on Nov. 6 to express their concerns about the increased traffic on Syndicate Road. A Class III road currently in poor condition, the road leads to the property where the solar array would be built.
There was also concern regarding the capacity of the Syndicate Road bridge, which is not in optimal condition.
Atherton told the selectboard at a meeting on Nov. 9 that he and Bailey also discussed with Peyton what kind of investment Ranger Solar would be willing to make in the town.
 “We also asked if they had any interest in putting some money into our town,” he said. “Sort of a good faith gesture for putting the solar up.”
Peyton and her associates first appeared before the selectboard for an initial project pitch on Oct. 26. The proposed 20-megawatt solar array would cost Ranger roughly $29 million to build, and would create 80 short-term construction jobs and two to three full-time operational jobs.
She said at the Oct. 26 meeting that the required 45-day notice filing for public comment with the Public Service Board was planned for early November, with the PSB permitting application to be filed by the end of the year. But a search of the PSB website on Wednesday showed that 45-day notice had not yet been filed.
Ranger hopes to begin construction in spring/early summer 2016 and have the project fully operational by December 2016.
As for local incentives, Peyton said the project is expected to generate $100,000 annually in new tax revenue for the town of Brandon.
But on Monday, Bailey said he wanted a more detailed idea from Peyton of what that property and education tax revenue would be on the property, currently taxed as current use agricultural land, once the project was built. He cited northern Vermont energy projects, such as the Lowell Mountain wind project, where he said towns were told they would see revenue, and then didn’t.
“We wanted to know what the long-term tax scenario looks like so we can have the actual figure,” Bailey said. “Northern wind projects, and even with the gas pipeline, promised all kinds of things and then when they overspent, the towns that were counting on that money didn’t see it. So, I wanted to be really clear about what they felt their project would generate in a tax scenario so we could give citizens a clear picture.”
Atherton said he’s hoping that Ranger will be able to provide those property improvement details soon so they can be analyzed by the town assessor’s office.
Atherton echoed Bailey’s concern on the town benefits of the project.
“The big concern I had was, like Doug said, with the wind turbines up north, they pretty much built them and left town, and it hasn’t been a good situation since and we would like to not see that happen with (Ranger),” he said. “Hopefully, they will work with the town and the landowner and we can see something positive out of it.”
Despite his concerns, Bailey repeated his support for the siting of the project and the potential for the huge array to benefit Brandon. That said, Bailey added that he feels Ranger should come back and meet with the board and the taxpayers for another round of project questions.
“We need to feel pretty comfortable with what they’re talking about,” he said. “We felt it was important now that they come back and answer more questions, rather than us trying to answer questions. As the board chair, I’m concerned about what the revenue is in the long haul … I don’t want to have us, as a board, making statements about what we think the revenue will be, only to find out it’s totally incorrect.”
Ranger has been asked to return to Brandon for the Monday, Nov. 23, selectboard meeting.

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