SunCommon withdraws plan for solar array in Cornwall

CORNWALL — SunCommon has decided to withdraw its application for a proposed solar array off West Street in Cornwall, citing setback issues and a state-mandated archaeological review of the project site.
It was early this past summer that SunCommon confirmed it would seek a certificate of public good through the Vermont Public Service Board to establish a 150kW solar array on a portion of the Stephen Payne property at 2838 West St. The project would have featured 660 solar panels serving around 30 families through the company’s “Community Solar” program.
The proposal drew some criticism from neighbors and other Cornwall residents who feared the solar array would mar views in the West Street area. Cornwall selectboard members voiced concerns that the proposed solar array would skirt local review through the state’s Section 248 process. They held a special town meeting in August to allow people to discuss the West Street project and weigh in on the broader topic of how the community should entertain future solar proposals.
In September, the selectboard drafted a solar siting bylaw to give Cornwall some control over future solar arrays pitched in town. The state Legislature recently passed Act 56, which gives communities permission to adopt interim bylaws prescribing local standards for setbacks and screening for ground-mounted solar proposals.
While Cornwall has laid groundwork to give it a voice in evaluating future solar array proposals, the project pitched off West Street will not be one of them.
R.J. Adler, coordinator of SunCommon’s Addison County projects, attributed the company’s withdrawal of the Cornwall plan to “competing setbacks sought by the town and the abutting landowner, and the requirement from the Vermont Department of Historic Preservation to complete expensive historical reviews.”
Ultimately, the decision was primarily a financial one for SunCommon.
“We can’t spend an unlimited amount of time and money on a project and still keep memberships in the community array affordable for Vermonters,” Adler said.
Stephen Payne declined to comment on SunCommon’s decision. It was Payne who approached SunCommon this past spring about the prospect of hosting a solar array on roughly one acre of his property located in Cornwall’s low-density residential/agricultural zone.
“Community solar sites are not easy to find,” Duane Peterson, president and co-founder of SunCommon, said through a press release on the West Street solar proposal. “In the past year, over 300 Vermont landowners have asked to host Community Solar Arrays on their property. Of those 300-plus sites, only 100 appear viable at the outset with just 30 able to be built.”
Ben Wood, chairman of the Cornwall selectboard, believes SunCommon would have been better served discussing screening and siting issues with the town earlier its planning process.
“It would seem to make sense to our board that this should have been addressed up-front, rather then just trying to push it through,” Wood said. “Our board feels that it is more productive to be proactive in working together to achieve the end goal.”
Adler said SunCommon will continue to pursue solar projects, which he noted continue to have a strong following in Vermont.
“We’ll continue to work with towns to plot a path toward our clean energy future,” he said. “Just as generations before us adapted to rural electrification and the required, visible infrastructure that came with it, so too will we eventually find our clean energy infrastructure commonplace. It’s a long process, one which begins with site selection, and this (West Street) site just wasn’t a great fit.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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