Windsor Board Votes to Kill Solar Array Proposed for Prison Property

Thursday, January 28, 2016
Windsor — A day after the Windsor Selectboard voted, 5-0, to oppose a solar project on 40 acres of prison farm property off Marton Road, state and Green Mountain Power officials acknowledged the project is dead.

Green Mountain Power spokeswoman Kristin Carlson said the power company will not proceed with an application to the state Public Service Board based on the board’s vote.

“We have been very consistent and said all along we will respect the community’s wishes and what the community said,” Carlson said. “Now that they have voted against it, we will not move forward with the project.”

Mike Obuchowski, the commissioner of the Department of Buildings and General Services, which has a signed lease agreement with Green Mountain Power on the property, said his department also will abide by Windsor’s position.

“We are disappointed, but will follow Windsor’s will,” Obuchowski said.

Asked about the lease, Obuchowski said he “would consider it terminated.”

The rapid turn of events is a victory for opponents of the solar project, who earlier this year were facing an uphill battle when the project first became public in June.

“Outstanding. That is what we were seeking,” project opponent John Mayo said about Carlson’s statement. “This will be for the betterment of Windsor. It just wasn’t a good deal.”

Meanwhile, state Rep. Donna Sweaney, D-Windsor, said she filed her bill on Tuesday to add the 40 acres designated for the solar array to the 740 acres that recently was placed under the jurisdiction of the Fish and Wildlife Department by an executive order signed by Gov. Peter Shumlin.

If Sweaney’s bill is approved and signed by the governor, Fish and Wildlife would manage about 780 acres of the 900-acre prison property with only the land around the prison buildings remaining with the Department of Buildings and General Services.

Obuchowski said his department would not oppose giving the additional 40 acres to Fish and Wildlife.

“I think it will happen eventually and we might be able to do it (more easily) by executive order,” the commissioner said.

But until that happens, those who have opposed the solar project from the start say they want to keep up the pressure.

“That is why Donna’s bill is so important,” said John MacGovern, another opponent. “Our job is to support her and follow her advice on how to support the bill in various committees.”

When Green Mountain Power’s proposal became public, it was learned that the power company and state officials had been in negotiations for several months without informing Windsor residents or town officials.

But in a July meeting with the town’s Development Review Board, Green Mountain’s director of development, Kirk Shields, defended keeping the location under wraps until the last minute. Shield said they look at a lot of sites and didn’t reveal that the prison land was under consideration until they had worked out issues with the Agency of Natural Resources and had a lease agreement with the state.

“It hasn’t been that long since we determined this was a viable project,” Shields said in July.

But keeping Windsor out of the earlier discussions, angered many residents and was one of the reasons Selectboard Chairman Justin Ciccarelli said he voted to oppose the project.

“The biggest problem I had was the process,” Ciccarelli said. “We were not informed. We were an afterthought.”

He is not sure if Windsor’s involvement from the beginning would have changed the town’s position, but said that is irrelevant now.

“We will never know because Windsor was left out,” he said. “They never came to us until they needed us.”

Opposition to the solar array’s location came from many who either live around the property or frequently use it for hunting, bird watching, skiing or other activities. They said the site of the proposed array was a critical nesting habitat for birds and the construction would spoil the landscape and views.

“Devastation of the land,” is how Mayo described the project on Wednesday.

Before it voted Tuesday night, the board was considering an advisory question on the town meeting ballot to see if most residents were for or against the project. Ciccarelli said he never had anyone approach him in town expressing support for the project.

“No one came out and said, ‘Wow, I’m glad Green Mountain Power is here,’ ” Ciccarelli said. “I didn’t hear anyone say this could really help us.”

Ciccarelli said he also was swayed by a property owner who told the board at one meeting that the array would destroy his views out his front window.

“I thought, this is really going to change someone’s daily life.”

The utility said the 4.25-megawatt array with 19,000 panels would help it to meet the state’s mandate of producing 55 percent of its power from renewable sources. For Windsor, the project would mean about $40,000 annually in property tax revenue.

“We had negotiated a deal that treated Windsor fairly,” Obuchowski said Wednesday when asked why he was disappointed with the board’s vote.

The estimated tax revenue — more than a million dollars over the life of the array — produced few, if any, converts in town.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.




Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784
603-298-8711

 

© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy