Opinion: Pointing out inaccuracies in solar opinion piece

We understand that folks can have preferences over the use of property owned by their neighbors. But facts do matter. In a recent opinion piece (“Solar energy projects should be done properly” Nov. 9, 2015), the Rev. Dr. Stephanie Allen made assertions that are not true about her neighbor’s pursuit of a Community Solar Array.
“They bypassed the town of Addison,” is far from the truth. Well in advance of any permit application, SunCommon’s local solar community organizer spoke with Addison town’s selectboard chair, planning commission chair and zoning administrator to discuss the proposed project and seek input (on Feb. 12, 2015). SunCommon’s director of community organizing attended the selectboard meeting on March 10, presented our preliminary thoughts on the project and sought input. Our local community organizer then attended a planning commission meeting on May 11. Hardly bypassed, these town officials were well aware of the project.
“We had to track down SunCommon, send emails, ask for information including site plans…” As part of SunCommon’s Good Neighbor Agreement, we voluntarily sent a letter to her and each neighbor of the proposed CSA on March 19 in advance of the permit application, to engage them and seek their input. SunCommon’s president spoke with Rev. Allen on three separate occasions to describe in detail the project, options for siting and her ideas.
Rev. Allen and her spouse were invited by her neighbors to join a SunCommon adviser and tour the site to address their questions and concerns in August, but declined. We altered the design to accommodate her wishes, moving the array further from her property line and screening it with solid tree line. SunCommon subsequently sent her via certified mail in March the complete permit application including detailed plans with analysis of all the siting considerations, including alterations made at her request.
“The proposed array in our ‘backyard’ would affect a wetland, is in the area of the Indiana bat and our home is a historic site.” Again, the facts are different. A biologist from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources visited the site and confirmed that no class II wetlands were present. Additionally, the proposed array would have no impact on Indiana bats as the project requires no tree clearing.
With regard to the historic nature of her home, SunCommon submitted this site to the Vermont Division of Historic Preservation (VDHP) for their review and VDHP confirmed “the project will not have any adverse indirect effect on any standing historic structures.” And of course, the CSA is not in her backyard but on land she does not own, even as she seeks to tell her neighbor how he may use it.
“We live in an area zoned ‘rural residential with an emphasis on agriculture.’” Exactly. Vermont law prohibits her from denying her neighbor his right to construct farm structures like a tall silo, long barn, crops of his liking including 30-foot Christmas trees — all of which would be significantly more visible to her than her neighbor’s current project. He now is choosing a new cash crop, rows of solar panels, on land that he owns directly behind his own home. That is his right.
“We thought it was a safe assumption when we purchased our house that the 10-acre field behind us would not be developed.” Again, the expectation here is that her neighbor abandon his rights to use his land in a lawful and permitted manner?
While the solar permitting discussion continues throughout Vermont communities, we must not lose sight of the rights and desires of Vermont community solar land hosts. These land hosts seek an opportunity to use their property to advance local solar opportunities in their community. Whether their motivations be environmental, financial, community-minded or all of the above, land hosts deserve an educated and thoughtful discourse with their fellow community members.
Duane Peterson, Waterbury Center
Editor’s note: Duane Peterson of Waterbury is co-president of SunCommon. He also serves on theboards of directors of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

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