Developer downscales its Brandon solar array

BRANDON — A huge solar array planned for over 100-acres on the Brandon-Florence line is getting smaller, but if approved will still be the largest project of its kind in Vermont.
Representatives from Ranger Solar returned to the Brandon selectboard Nov. 23 to update the board and residents on the project, and to answer additional questions.
Development Manager Liz Peyton gave an update on the project, saying Ranger will likely downsize the original $29 million, 20-megawatt solar array on an 113-acre parcel between Syndicate Road and West Creek Road to a 10MW-15MW project using 50-75 acres of land.
The change is due to mitigation of the wetlands and floodplain within the original parcel.
“The wetland impacts will have to be mitigated,” she said. “It could be that the project size will change. To do it responsibly and do it well, the project will be a bit smaller than 20 megawatts.”
That said, Peyton added that she does not believe the smaller size of the project will affect the property tax revenues the town of Brandon stands to collect from developing the project. The project was originally estimated to generate $100,000 annually in new tax revenue for the town of Brandon.
“It’s not fair to make promises we can’t deliver,” she said. “We try and compensate by being very open about our plans.”
But because of the potential downsize of the project, Peyton said filing of the 45-day notice for public comment with the Public Service Board will be delayed until the first part of 2016. Originally, the goal was to file by mid-November.
“We’re still in that process and we’re still feeling good about this project,” Peyton said.
She added that the size of the project supersedes any state tax incentives, and that the federal Renewable Energy Credit program does not require that the project be built by the end of 2016, which was the original plan.
During a subsequent question and answer period following the project update, it was clear that wetland, floodplain and wildlife corridor concerns were paramount.
Brandon Selectman Ethan Swift, a state watershed coordinator for the Otter Creek Watershed Area, said he was concerned about the location of the proposed project because it lies within a flood plain.
“I worry a little bit about the location,” he said. “Here we’re trying to prevent encroachment in the floodplain and you’re planning this project.”
Aaron Svedlow, Ranger’s director of environmental permitting, assured Swift that the project would not be built in the mapped floodplain area. He also said his Yarmouth, Maine, company is prepared to investigate a number of construction methods that will minimize the impact on the land.
“We don’t want to impact the flood capacity in that area,” Svedlow said.
Swift provided a number of photos of the floodplain in question during and after Tropical Storm Irene, which showed massive flooding in August 2011. He also cautioned Ranger not to believe so strongly in the 100-year flood precautions set by the federal government, pointing to the Flood Rock on West Creek Road in Pittsford. There are marks for the floods in 1927, 1938, 2011 and others.
“I just would caution that we consider Irene a 100-year storm,” he said. “There have been four or five storms in that time.”
In the end, Swift made a motion recommending that the town apply to the Public Service Board for intervener or party status when Ranger’s project application is filed.
“I think it would be in the town’s best interest,” Swift said. “Not to intervene but to be involved in the process and make recommendations during that permitting process.”
The motion passed unanimously. Then Selectman Seth Hopkins asked the board to consider, at a future meeting, a motion officially supporting the Ranger project. 

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