Opinion: The aesthetics of solar siting must be taken seriously

I am writing in response to Gregg Beldock’s Community Forum column on the siting of solar fields (“Solar helps farmers, creates jobs,” Jan. 18, 2016).
What’s wrong with a pig farm if it doesn’t stink?
It’s not just a rhetorical question for me, for I am the owner of the property with what I feel is the ugliest solar field on the Route 7 solar corridor.
I don’t say that with pride and I often ask myself how a guy who prides himself on leaving most places looking better than when I got there — i.e., our store, The Vermont Home, and there are around 20,000 pieces of furniture out there that we’ve made that I think most people are happy with, and we fixed up a wreck of a house — got into this sorry situation?
In the alternative energy, wind and solar, versus Vermont aesthetics, ridgeline and fields, I’m clearly and emphatically in the aesthetics camp.
My wife, Kath, has heard me storm in Sheffield, Searsburg, Cornwall, N.Y., Duxbury, Mass., the Gaspe, Quebec, the high pastures east of Denver, driving down Route 7 into Vergennes, “How can you say those things aren’t ugly? There’s no difference between them and the high voltage lines crossing Quebec and you know they’re ugly.” But like waves against the headland she just absorbs my fury and says, “It has to be if we’re going to beat global warming.”
Well, she wore me out and got me thinking. What IS wrong with a pig farm if it doesn’t stink? We have some acreage with a high water table at the store, otherwise useless, and if you green-screened it from the road, what’s the problem? ACORN action network had just sited a solar array for the town of Middlebury and the word was that they were looking for more sites.
A phone call to them confirmed this and that with about an acre of land the landowner gets about $2,500 a year in rent. “Wait a minute! Help with the property taxes and maybe a little skiing money! Sign me up!”
Enter Gregg Beldock, a developer of solar fields. First off, Gregg is a good guy and I learned quickly when we negotiated the lease, he is a tough, hard-nosed businessman. These are compliments. Gregg worked hard and smart, took big risks and cashed out with a bundle and a big capital gains tax that the government wanted on that passive gain. Who wants to pay them that much dough? Is there anything legal that can be done to reduce the bill?
Enter the government’s plan for a 30 percent discount against passive income, e.g., capital gains or rent.
For a guy with a capital gains bill like Gregg’s, it’s a marriage made in Financial Heaven. Do well, doing good. The Holy Grail of business. I think that’s where Gregg got Solar Religion. Doers do and Gregg was off and running, building a half dozen sites before the government stopped the tax credit.
Me, I think this is government doing it right. Set policies that effect change that benefits everyone. Jumpstart the private sector. You know. The basic Democratic line.
In October when we did the deal for a 150kV field, I was told that it would be operational by Jan. 1. What? How can that be? Get it through local zoning and built in three months? Well, local zoning doesn’t have a say in energy projects. 150kV systems are rubber-stamped with a few requirements thrown in, including green-screening.
Eureka! If the permit stipulates a green screen, my pig farm don’t stink and I’m gonna have $2,500 to go skiing with.
In come the construction crew, up goes the field. “Wow. That thing is really ugly. REAL UGLY and in your face close to the road! But, the green screen will block the view. When is Gregg going to put in the trees?”
Come June, in comes Gregg’s tree crew, they plant cedars, double rowed and three times as many as the permit required, but look at them, they’re tiny! I don’t think those trees will block the view of that mess in five years. Maybe 10.
E-mails to Gregg. “Is that it? It’s not a working tool.”
No response to the e-mails.
My pig farm stinks again.
In Gregg’s Community Forum article he is exhorting Team Alternative Energy to crash the barricades and let’s get this global warming religion spread.
I’m with you, Gregg. If you show proper respect to the rural aesthetics people. It’s their (our) Vermont, too.
If you are calling what you did on our land showing respect for their point of view, you don’t get it.
You are not doing well doing good. Look up from the bottom line. There is a ton of money being made in these projects. Vermont solar fields are a bonanza for people with ultra high passive incomes. You can fight tooth and nail with us but there is an easier way.
Do the “good” part of the “doing well” equation.
I have faith in you.
Merle Schloff, Salisbury

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