Big Solar Projects Get Town Support

By Mike Faher VERMONT DIGGER April 10, 2016

Three proposed 20-megawatt solar projects have gained support from their host towns, but the biggest hurdle – state permitting – still lies ahead.

The Brandon Selectboard is the latest to back construction of a project proposed by Maine-based Ranger Solar LLC, passing a resolution March 28 that touts the array’s economic and renewable-energy benefits. Previously, the towns of Sheldon and Ludlow offered similar support.

Ranger Solar President Adam Cohen said those three projects, along with 20-megawatt proposals in Highgate and Randolph, are moving forward. Ultimately, it will be up to the Vermont Public Service Board to determine whether the proposed arrays – by far the state’s largest – will become reality.

“We look forward to our continued work with the local communities to bring the best-sited and cost-effective clean energy projects to the state of Vermont,” Cohen said.

Vermont’s goal is to get 90 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2050, and officials have been promoting solar development. Photovoltaic arrays also generate a significant number of jobs in Vermont.

But there has been mixed reaction to Ranger Solar’s plans. Some Vermont officials and utility administrators have expressed concern about whether the state’s regulations and its power-transmission facilities are designed to handle such big projects.

Paperwork submitted for the Brandon project gives a sense of the scale of a 20-megawatt array: There would be 95,000 solar panels installed on approximately 100 acres.

Cohen has defended his plans. In terms of the state’s energy infrastructure, he said Friday that any necessary transmission-system upgrades would be covered entirely by Ranger Solar – though he does not believe such work will be necessary.

He also said the 20-megawatt arrays can greatly boost Vermont’s renewable portfolio and help increase its power production: Since the 2014 closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon, Cohen said, Vermont ranks last among all states in net electricity generation.

“The region needs more clean energy,” Cohen said. “You’re going to have to start getting there with projects that meet the demand of the region. You’re not going to get there with small, net-metered projects.”

The 20-megawatt arrays are in various stages of the permitting process. Cohen said Ranger Solar has filed an application for a state certificate of public good for the Ludlow project; for the Highgate, Sheldon and Brandon projects, the company has filed a 45-day notice of state application.

Cohen said he expects to make a similar 45-day filing soon for the Randolph array.

In each case, Cohen said he has been working with local officials to finalize his plans. “The community in Vermont is very receptive to well-sited, centralized solar projects,” he said.

So far, those sentiments are reflected in the letters of support written for three of Ranger Solar’s solar arrays.

Sheldon Selectboard’s letter declares that “the project will provide economic benefits to the town and state of Vermont.” Town officials support the project “so long as it is designed, constructed and operated in a manner which meets the requirements of the state.”

Ludlow’s letter notes “positive economic benefit to the taxpayers” and says Ranger Solar’s plan is consistent with state and town renewable-energy goals. The array would be built adjacent to an electrical substation, officials wrote, and it would be screened to minimize aesthetic impact on the area.

Brandon’s resolution is the most effusive. In addition to citing economic and environmental reasons to support the project, Brandon’s Selectboard commented on a “transparent and proactive” working relationship with Ranger Solar.

The Brandon project has been proposed in an “unobtrusive location,” the town’s letter says. Also, solar company representatives “listened to concerns expressed by members of the public and altered their design to address those concerns through amelioration of wetlands and wildlife impacts.”

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