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Neighborhood push-back prompts solar project move in Brandon

BRANDON — Public backlash from residents over a proposed 25-acre solar array just outside downtown Brandon has led the developer to seek an alternative site — possibly in town, perhaps elsewhere.
In a letter to the Vermont Public Utility Commission dated March 30 and shared with the Brandon selectboard last week, Conti Solar of Edison, N.J., requested that it be allowed to switch sites due to “significant opposition to the project from neighboring property owners and residents due to aesthetic concerns.”
The company proposed putting up solar panels on two 12.5-acre parcels at the intersection of Country Club Road and Park Street Extension, about a mile from downtown Brandon. The land in question, owned by Bill Brooks, is agricultural and has been used to grow corn for decades.
Dubbed “The Babcock Solar Project,” the 2.2-megawatt array would have produced enough electricity to power 500 homes.
The plan included a very comprehensive landscaping plan that Brandon selectboard members and residents alike acknowledged as being well thought-out. But no amount of landscaping was going to shield the fact that the open fields along Country Club Road and Park Street Extension would be covered with solar panels in clear view of many neighboring residents and the roadway.
Brandon is home to a number of solar arrays, but they are sited in areas away from well-traveled roads and neighborhoods. The Brandon Town Plan includes an extensive section on solar siting, and the new Energy Committee approved by the selectboard May 14 will now develop a more comprehensive plan for renewable energy projects in Brandon (see accompanying story.)
When Conti brought the project before the Brandon selectboard on March 12, a number of abutting property owners and local residents attended and voiced their concerns over the solar development of so much open land so close to the roadway.
“Despite our efforts on the aesthetics plan, we received significant negative feedback … from neighbors who had major concerns related to the aesthetics of the project,” Vice President Eric Millard wrote in the letter to the state utilities regulator. “While we continue to believe that our landscaping plan will mitigate any negative aesthetic impacts of the project, we also want to be respectful and responsive to the feedback we received from neighbors in the local community.”
Millard goes on to request approval from the commission to relocate the project to a more suitable site, and more time to do so. The Rutland Herald reported that Conti could consider sites in Sunderland or Springfield if a site in Brandon doesn’t work out.
Brandon Town Manager Dave Atherton shared the letter with the Brandon selectboard Monday night.
“They’ve been great to work with,” he said of Conti Solar. “We’ve given them names and other locations they might be interested in.”

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