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Big solar array pitched in Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — A developer is seeking state permission to install a 2.2-megawatt solar farm on land off Halladay Road and Middle Road South in Middlebury.

The solar farm, being pitched by a corporate entity called Halladay Solar LLC, would occupy roughly 16 acres of the larger 111-acre spread owned by Peter Quesnel and Mary Anne Highter. Because it’s a renewable energy proposal, it will be evaluated by the Vermont Public Utility Commission and will not be subject to a local review.

It’s not the first plan to put solar on that site. In 2018 a company called groSolar targeted the same land for a solar farm, but that proposal failed to advance. Halladay Solar LLC is now seeking to acquire the property, which is currently being farmed.

Details of the plan can be found online at tinyurl.com/ycyffjhr. Here are some major elements of the solar farm, which would generate around 4,500 megawatt hours of electricity per year, or the equivalent of enough to power about 900 homes:

  • It would be made up of approximately 6,120 Canadian Solar 580-watt solar panels mounted on single-axis solar trackers with about 120 panels per rack. The panels would be arranged in rows running north-south and “set out in arrays designed to minimize impacts to natural resources,” according to Halladay Solar’s application to the state regulator.
  • The panels would be mounted on single-axis tracking systems supported by posts; the height of the panels wouldn’t exceed 13 feet above ground level. The system could be operated remotely, with occasional onsite maintenance.
  • The rows would be connected via underground and above-ground electrical cable to string inverters, which would convert the electricity from DC to AC. From the inverters, the electrical interconnect line would run underground to a three-phase transformer. Two or three new utility poles would be installed as necessary to support project infrastructure that would safely connect to the grid.
  • Access to the project would be from Middle Road South, via a new 12-foot-wide, 1,070-foot-long access drive. The project has been designed in a way to avoid impacts to the Class II wetlands, wetland buffers and a stream on the western half of the parcel. No tree clearing is being proposed.
  • The visual impacts of the project would largely be mitigated by “two long, linear hills that run the length of the project (north-south),” according to the developers.

This means the project would be “well-buffered for the average viewer from offsite locations on three sides — east, west, and north — in a way that effectively blocks the project from the surrounding area,” reads an aesthetic assessment of the potential array prepared by Williston-based Trudell Consulting Engineers.

Meanwhile, the south side of the project would be obscured by vegetation, as proposed in a landscaping plan that would break up views of the site from Middle Road South.

“From private view locations, our site investigation found there will only be three residential parcels that will have some partial and/or seasonal visibility of portions of the project,” reads the Trudell report. “These parcels include the two residential parcels accessed from South Ridge Drive as well as the south-most parcel accessed from Halladay Road that abuts the north side of Middle Road South.”

Project planners said the array materials will either be dark or galvanized steel in color. The module panels containing glass will be treated with a low glare, anti-reflective coating.

“Since the colors and materials of the photovoltaic array will present a new visual element into the landscape that does not currently exist, some may find addition of new metal and glass structures to be adverse in and of itself,” the Trudell report acknowledges.

  • An agricultural-style fence would enclose the project.
  • If the project earns state approval, it would take 30-40 weeks to install the solar array, according to Halladay Solar officials. Onsite heavy construction equipment would be limited to pile-driving or similar equipment for installing the racking, backhoes, and the like for conduit excavation and inverter/transformer pad construction, dump trucks and excavators for the road construction, and a small crane to place the enclosures on the concrete pads.
  • The project would be privately financed, and would generate annual tax revenues — an estimated $8,800 to the state (based on $4 per kilowatt hour), and $12,000 to Middlebury, based upon a valuation of the solar array that has yet to be finalized.
  • At the end of the useful life, Halladay Solar would determine if the solar farm could be sustained or decommissioned. If decommissioned, the equipment would be dismantled and removed from the site and sold, re-used or recycled, with the site restored to its original condition, according to the application.

Thomas Hand is manager for Halladay Solar LLC. He said when the company seeks to develop a solar farm, it typically looks for parcels that are generally flat; devoid of trees; hidden, to the greatest extent possible, from neighbors and public roads; accessible from public roads; in close proximity to three-phase power lines; and skirt wetlands, rivers, and important habitat for rare and endangered species.

So the Quesnel/Highter property, according to Hand, “kind of checks all the boxes.”

Neither Hand nor the Middlebury town manager’s office had received complaints about the Halladay Solar proposal as the Independent went to press on Wednesday.

A summer approval from the PUC would allow installation of the solar farm to begin this fall, according to Hand.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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