New Haven is first town to get bigger voice in solar siting

NEW HAVEN — If New Haven voters OK a revised town plan next week on Town Meeting Day, the substantially updated plan could give the town a bigger voice in where and if future renewable energy projects are sited within its borders.
Vermont’s Act 174, enacted last June, gives towns that meet the law’s municipal energy planning standards “substantial deference” in Section 248 hearings. That means the state energy regulator — the Public Service Board — must give those towns more weight when deciding whether to allow developers to build new solar, wind or other energy projects.
“The town plan is very comprehensive, and a large portion of it is devoted to solar and renewable energy,” said Selectboard Chair Kathy Barrett.
“We’re trying to adhere to Act 174, and it’s taken a lot of work.”
According to Addison County Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Adam Lougee, the updated New Haven Town Plan is definitely the first town plan in Addison County that tries to meet the standards set out in Act 174, and it very well may be the first in the state.
Act 174 was spearheaded by state senator and New Haven resident Chris Bray, who had hoped to provide a way to give towns more voice in renewable energy siting decisions, while also moving the state toward its goal of getting 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.
Barrett encourages residents to come either to a public hearing on the plan on Monday, Feb. 27, or to town meeting next Monday, March 6, to ask questions, voice concerns, and get clarification on the town plan update.
Fully a third of the 119-page updated town plan is taken up with the discussion of New Haven’s energy plan. A key focus, said Barrett, was to prove to the Department of Public Service that New Haven is already generating its fair share of renewable energy. The DPS is charged with state energy planning and protection of consumers.
“We put in a lot of statistics to show that we already generate much more renewable energy in town than we use, and so we feel that we have done our part in terms of the goals for renewable energy for the state in general,” Barrett said.
According to the plan, New Haven ranks second in the state for the number of “ground-mounted solar electric generation facilities.” And it already produces close to three times the electricity that it consumes. The plan also says the town produces 15,558,572 kilowatt hours of electricity annually and consumes only 5,277,600.
With its flat, sun-filled fields, open spaces and proximity to power transmission lines, New Haven has been a magnet for solar generation over the past decade. A map issued in 2015 by Green Mountain Power showed New Haven to be one of the state’s top sites for generating solar energy — to the point that many electricity distribution lines were shown to be at or near capacity. Last fall, a proposed 2.2-megawatt development on Field Days Road brought out a large crowd of concerned and interested citizens, as the Public Service Board took the step of making a site visit.
The Energy Plan section of the proposed town plan looks at “how to fit distributed generation into a power grid that was not designed for it, and how to secure our energy future without degrading important elements of Vermont culture and environment like wetlands, forest, wildlife habitat, prime agricultural soils, and the visual and cultural landscape valued by residents and critical to the tourist economy.”
Energy generating sources in New Haven include not just the town’s 33 ground-mounted solar sites, but also hydropower from Belden Falls, wind generated on four properties, and 35 homes with roof-mounted solar panels.
More energy will be passing through New Haven when and if the 400-megawatt Vermont Green Line converter station is built to bring renewable wind and hydro power onto the New England grid from upstate New York.
Given that “New Haven has already done its part to exceed the state distributed generation electricity production goals,” the town plan:
•  Limits the development of “standard offer renewable energy plants” to “those locations already so developed, and only for the duration of their certificates of public good.
•  Places similar limitations on various types of solar development.
•  Discusses the adverse effects of large-scale solar development on New Haven’s open land, farmland, wildlife habitat, and cultural and scenic resources.
•  Describes the capacity limits on New Haven’s electrical distribution lines, as the result of large-scale solar development.
•  Encourages energy conservation and efficiency.
•  Encourages the development of renewable technologies, especially those tied to the local agriculture and forestry economy, such as biomethane and biomass.
•  Lays out standards for the siting, screening and setback of renewable energy projects.
The plan also states that “New Haven does not allow any solar panels on any parcel if the electricity is to be used or credited to meters off site.”
New Haven residents are encouraged to attend the public hearing on the revised town plan, Feb. 27, 7 p.m., at the town office. The town plan will also be discussed as part of Article 7 at town meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m., Monday, March 6, in the New Haven Town Hall. Residents will vote up or down on the updated New Haven Town Plan in Australian ballot voting on March 7.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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