2018-02-28 / Front Page

Energy company proposes 3.5-acre solar array in former gravel pit


CHESTER — A Vermont solar energy company is seeking preliminary approval from the Chester Select Board and local planning commissions on a proposed solar array in Chester.

Bruce Genereaux with Groton-based Green Mountain Community Solar (GMCS), and representing Eddy Road Solar LLC (ERS), spoke to members of the select board on Wednesday evening, Feb. 21.

Genereaux said Eddy Road Solar, a new Vermont company, hopes to obtain the board’s early approval of a former gravel pit as a designated “preferred site” for a proposed Eddy Road Solar 500 kW solar array.

The company is also asking the board — along with the Chester Planning Commission (CPC) and the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission (SWCRPC) — to consider signing a letter by April 1 indicating that designation as a preferred site.

While no vote was taken on Wednesday in regard to the request, board members and Town Manager David Pisha plan to visit the site in person, and will discuss the matter further with the two planning commissions.

The approximately 25-foot deep former gravel pit off Eddy Road was part of a level road in 1964, but was used for construction of a road to Springfield in 1965, according to a landowner who attended the meeting to voice his approval for the project.

The site would be “ideal” for a solar array, he said.

It would also provide financial benefits to the town and would be practically out of sight, according to Genereaux.

“If you look at the economics of it, it’s working,” Genereaux said.

Under solar rules, a “preferred site” status indicates land would be useful as a solar array because it is non-productive or underutilized, such as old gravel pits, quarries, or brownfields. Solar arrays are generally built out of sight, and this one would be in a topographic depression on a dead end road with vegetation, Genereaux said.

He provided a conceptual map indicating the location of the approximate 3.5-acre project site with access from Eddy Road.

Genereaux said Eddy Road Solar would ensure that existing vegetation buffers would remain in place so passers-by would see very little, if any, of the solar farm. The company will also put more visual screening in place.

Because the pit is about 25 feet deep and in a remote area, the solar panels would be nearly invisible to travelers, according to the abutting landowners. Some vegetation would be cleared to the east and south of the site to allow for the required 50-foot setback. Adjacent to the the site are Class II and Class III wetlands, which would have no building or clearing in those areas, all according to the conceptual map.

No soils or sand are in production in that spot, and a solar array would provide additional tax revenue for the town. A solar array would also contribute to the state of Vermont’s goals of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050, he said.

The company began an overview of the proposed site in January. The request made on Wednesday is a step ahead of the formal permitting process, which started on Thursday, Feb. 22 with a letter going out to all abutting landowners. The state requires a 45-day advance notice, and the company must take into account comments from the public, he said.

Select board member Lee Gustafson asked about tax revenues and benefits of installing the new solar array.

Taxes on a solar array are on the underlying land and on the physical assets, which are in a two-way split divided into the municipal portion — approximately $4,000-$5,000 per year — and the solar capacity tax or educational portion, collected directly by the state, Genereaux said.

Pisha said the land would be rented out to the solar company for $6,000 per year, and that the town would save 10 percent on electrical bills such as for sewer, water and town hall.

The land is owned by Nancy Eddy and Mary Eddy Semones, and Caroline Eddy (dec.), according to information provided by Genereaux, the project manager for ERS.

The company provides emissions-free, solar-sourced net-meter credits. With the new proposed array, credits would not be sold directly to GMP, but would go to established GMP customers within the GMP territory, Genereaux said.

Near the proposed site is the unoccupied Eddy Farm historic farmhouse and an existing 150 kW array that was built in 2015 by GMSC on the Eddy Farm land.

As of November 2015 on that existing solar farm, of the available 780 panels, 67 percent were sold to businesses and residents in Vermont and 33 percent were retained by West Chester Community Solar LLC. Output from all panels is assigned to Green Mountain Power (GMP) accounts, all according to the GMSC website.

Selectboard Chair Arne Jonynas indicated on Wednesday that the proposal seemed ideal, but that it would also help all involved in the decision to get a visual of where the solar array would be installed.

A public site visit is planned for mid-March, and will include an invitation to developers, planning commissions, town officials, and any abutting landowners or local citizens who would like to take part in the visit.

If the town and two planning commissions agree to provide the letter of preferred site designation for the Eddy Road pit, the ERS solar company plans to have its permit submitted by late April, Genereaux said.

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