Hartford Planning Commission to consider solar array

By FRANCES MIZE

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 08-08-2023 5:13 PM

HARTFORD — As the town marches toward its renewable energy goal, the Planning Commission is considering a proposal from a developer hoping to build a large solar array on a parcel that abuts a 50-home subdivision off Braley Drive.

The array, proposed by Hartford-based Norwich Solar, would generate 500 kilowatts of energy to be sold to Green Mountain Power. The solar panels would stand about 15 feet off the ground at their highest point, and occupy a 2.4-acre footprint within a 55-acre property next to the Sterling Springs housing subdivision.

The Hartford Energy Commission has already written a letter to the Planning Commission recommending that it approve the proposal. The energy generation from the array would be another step toward achieving Hartford’s goal of getting to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions town-wide by 2030, as outlined in its Climate Action Plan.

But before it’s given the go-ahead, Norwich Solar must demonstrate that the land the solar array would be built on isn’t better suited for something else. A “preferred site” designation is required for solar arrays that generate between 150 kW and 500 kW of power, and is generally given to brownfield sites, or “land that’s contaminated, rooftops or land that has limited other uses,” said Dana Clawson, Hartford’s environmental sustainability coordinator.

In order to site solar on undeveloped land, such as the Braley Drive property, the developer is required to demonstrate to a town’s planning commission, selectboard and the regional planning commission — in Hartford’s case, that would be the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission — that the development of solar arrays on the site is aligned with the town plan and town’s energy plan.

Hartford currently has just shy of 800 kW in municipally-owned solar energy generation, Clawson said, and is unable to add anymore. Vermont’s net-metering statute mandates that an entity can’t generate more the 500 kW in solar energy.

“The town itself is in excess, we were grandfathered in,” he said.

A special Planning Commission meeting two months ago drew 14 property owners in the Sterling Springs development to the Hartford Town Hall to discuss the project. Geoff Martin, owner of Norwich Solar, is scheduled to present to the commission again on Wednesday with “some ideas for how (Norwich Solar) could block the visual details of the site (for Sterling Springs homeowners),” Clawson said.

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In 2019, Norwich Solar was rebuffed after approaching the Sterling Springs Homeowners’ Association about developing an array on another parcel of land owned by the association, according to a letter sent at the time from the president of the association to property owners.

The land proposed by the developers this go-around is owned by Steve Davis and Kristen Connors, who combined two parcels they owned separately under the Hartford Braley Solar LLC to support the array. Davis and Connors co-own Vermod, a Hartford-based energy-efficient manufactured home construction company.

At the special meeting two months ago, Sterling Springs homeowner Roger Bloomfield noted that Davis and Connor’s properties are in Hartford’s “density zone,” which the town plan prioritizes for housing. For that reason, Planning Commissioner Dillon Bianchi said he opposed the development at the meeting, but declined to comment further to the Valley News when reached by a reporter on Tuesday. Bloomfield could not be reached for comment.

If the site is designated as preferred by the Planning Commission, a biologist and wetland specialist will perform a survey to determine the impact the array would have on wildlife.

Developers are sent back to find a new site or come up with a mitigation strategy if the survey reveals something of concern. If not, Norwich Solar can proceed by issuing a 45-day advance notice to the abutters and the Town of Hartford to solicit public feedback.

The Hartford Planning Commission is scheduled to meet Wednesday at 6 p.m. to review revised plans for the proposal. The meeting is to be held at the Hartford Town Hall at 171 Bridge Street, or can be accessed virtually at this link: https://tinyurl.com/2p8wxdhc.

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.