Babcock pulls plug on Brandon solar project

BRANDON — In a surprise announcement last Thursday, Nov. 15, Babcock Solar Farm LLC filed documents that put an end to its proposed 2.2 MW solar project that would have been built near Park Street and Country Club Road in Brandon. 
The formal initiative requested an order of dismissal for the project from the Public Utility Commission. The Brandon site visit and public hearing that was scheduled for Monday, Nov. 19, was canceled.
Several residents of Brandon have been outspoken in recent meetings with the selectboard and fire district. Their chief concerns focused on building on top of a century-old water main that runs under the proposed site, as well as the negative aesthetics of the project.
Fire District Superintendent Raymond Counter said he was disappointed in the amount of misinformation and criticism that was going on about the project’s impact on the water line, and the fire district’s work protecting it. Much of the public’s criticism had been directed at the water district’s board, and their seeming reluctance to take a more active role against the project.
In an hour-long meeting last week facing such criticism, the board had tried to explain the permitting process the solar farm project would face and the opportunities for public opposition, but that their role was to ensure the public water lines remained viable, not to oppose specific projects.
“My focus always has been, and will be in the future, protecting the water line,” Counter said.
From the town’s perspective, Brandon Town Manager Dave Atherton emphasized that the project never had the selectboard’s support and the town had filed for party status opposing it, as had the Rutland Regional Planning Commission. Atherton noted in recent meetings that the town has supported solar projects in the past and would in the future, but it did not think this particular proposal was located in the right spot. 
Atherton had said during the Nov. 12 Brandon selectboard meeting that he had warned Babcock representatives when they first discussed the project two years ago that it was not a good location and they would get pushback from the neighbors.
The neighbors were a group of residents from Country Club Townhouses, which is adjacent to the proposed site. Jonathan Blake, who owns property next to the site, along with Kathryn Clark and Robert Clark were all vocal opponents.
“We couldn’t be more pleased,” said Carol Byrne, a spokesperson for the Country Club Townhouses. “We are looking forward to renewable energy, and Vermont is a leader in that. But we felt this site was wrong.” 
To avoid future problems locating solar sites, Michael Shank, chair of the Brandon Planning Commission, says the town is asking Brandon residents to help determine the best possible solar sites in town. Once selected, town administrators can steer companies toward those specific sites in the future. The preferred sites, Shank said, would be not visible to heavy traffic areas and will not detract from the beauty of the town.
Eric Millard, chief commercial officer of Babcock Solar Farms, had been shepherding the project through the Public Utility Commission process. He could not be reached for comment before deadline for this edition.

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