Energy committee to plan solar in Brandon

BRANDON — A controversial solar project in Brandon and a state mandate has prompted the Brandon Planning Commission to form an Energy Committee.
Brandon Planning Commission Chair Stephanie Jerome and Planning Commission member Michael Shank appeared before the Brandon Selectboard on May 14 to request approval for the formation of the Energy Committee.
Jerome explained that the state mandated that Vermont towns create an energy plan addendum to their town plans. The Brandon Energy Committee will look at town maps and outline preferred sites for solar, wind and hydroelectric energy projects. The goal is to avoid controversial energy projects that may be sited in less desirable locations (see accompanying Conti Solar story).
“It’s to insure that the Conti Solar kerfuffle doesn’t happen again,” Shank told the selectboard.
The Brandon Town Plan currently addresses the siting of solar projects in detail, including that large projects be adequately screened from public view, and that they are not sited on agricultural land. But having an Energy Plan would give the town another layer of oversight over the location of renewable energy projects.
“It gives us control over the siting of these solar, wind and hydro projects,” Jerome said.
The Energy Committee already has five members, Shank said. They are Edna Sutton, Gary Meffe, Lowell Rasmussen, Jerome and Shank, who will serve as committee chair.
Selectboard Chair Seth Hopkins asked how having an Energy Committee would prevent future project siting conflicts like the one with Conti Solar. Shank explained that the Energy Committee works with the Rutland County Regional Planning Commission.
“We can create a criteria list so companies do a better job of consulting with the town about our preferences,” he explained, “and they’re not searching needlessly for sites that are not suitable. Ideally, it will streamline things on both sides. We can actively identify where we would want those kinds of projects. Conti showed us that we need to do a better job of communication.”
Hopkins then asked what would prevent private landowners from developing a project on their own property, and Shank acknowledged that the Energy Plan would not be legally binding.
But Jerome added that the goal is to give the town as much control as possible over where future projects go.
“We all want to do our part, but we just want to make sure it’s done within our standards,” she said. “There is an indication that there are more of these projects (like Conti Solar) coming down the pike, and we want to get our ducks in a row.”
The selectboard unanimously approved the formation of the Energy Committee, not to exceed five members.

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