MINUTES: August 28, 2014

Board members present: Steve Hawley, Mary Ashcroft, John Paul Faignant and Don Chioffi

The meeting opened at 7:00 P.M.

Mr. Hawley said the purpose of the meeting is to work on the proposed Solar Facility Siting Standards (SFSS) landscaping and screening section. Ms. Ashcroft acknowledged that she had received an email from GMP employee Mr. Steve Costello offering suggested language.

Ms. Ashcroft said the suggested landscaping and screening language submitted by Mr. Costello is too general. She said the language talks about solar facilities being sited and screened so as they do not have an undue adverse impact on the scenic and rural character of the town. She said that is the standard used by the Public Service Board (PSB) and Act 250.

Ms. Ashcroft said the language is vague and would leave the determination in someone else's hands. She said such vague language would not offer much input from the town.

Ms. Ashcroft and Mr. Chioffi discussed the differences in the standards used by the Act 250 and Act 248 processes. Ms. Ashcroft said both use the Quechee Lakes decision and that the difference is that in Act 250 proceeding it is a finding, which the District Commission has to make that there is no undue adverse impact. She said it is a lesser imposition in the 248 process.

Town resident Ms. Marsha Cassel, submitted correspondence from the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. She said the information is a model ordinance for small scale solar siting.

Ms. Cassel said the document is good because it defines some of the terms regardless of how you move forward. Ms. Cassel said some of the terms used by the Board are undefined. Ms. Cassel said different terms may be interpreted differently by different readers.

Ms. Cassel said a project less than 10 kW is a small scale project under the Columbia law School document. She said the Town's SFSS does not have a small scale definition.

Ms. Cassel critiqued the Town's SFSS using the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School for comparison. Ms. Cassel said roof top solar should be encouraged because it does not esthetically change roof features. She said roof top solar should be a preferred method.

Ms. Cassel said a roof top flush mounted solar array should not trigger a building permit. Town Administrator Mr. Joseph Zingale Jr. informed Ms. Cassel that the Town does not issue building permits.

She said the Town's SFSS do not talk about roof mounted verses ground mounted solar arrays. She said stationary and tracking solar arrays would have different footprints. Ms. Cassel told the Board that a co-op solar project should not be considered a commercial project. Ms. Cassel said tracking or stationary solar arrays should be considered like other accessory structures in town.

Mr. Chioffi read the statement under the “Public Health and Safety Standards and Use Classification” section, which he said exempts any individual or business from the SFSS if the power is to serve the individual or business only.

Ms. Cassel said the statement does not say “preferred”. She said the Board should give preference to roof mounted solar arrays. Mr. Chioffi cited the fact that the statement does give preference to roof mounted because it is exempted. Mr. Chioffi read the statement again and Ms. Cassel said she does not see where the Town prefers roof mounted verses ground mounted.

Ms. Cassel said her reading of the “Public Health and Safety Standards and Use Classification” section and Mr. Chioffi's is not the same. She said the Board needs to clarify the language. Ms. Cassel said the document she submitted also protects solar access for the future.

Ms. Cassel said that according to the Center for Climate Change Law model ordinance, applicants can appeal the town's decision. She suggested the Board not allow applicants to appeal a decision back to the Board.

Town Planning Commission member Mr. William Matteson said Ms. Cassel has confused the Board's SFSS with an ordinance. He said the SFSS is a guideline and that no one would be receiving a permit from the Town. Mr. Matteson said hopefully the Act 248 process will consider the standards when reviewing applications.

Mr. Hawley said the SFSS has to be much more general than an ordinance. He said such language would be appropriate in zoning regulations. Ms. Cassel questioned why the height of shrubs is so specific in the SFSS if the SFSS should be general. Ms. Cassel said the SFSS are situational specific in some cases and not in others.

Ms. Cassel said the Board should use Mr. Costello's suggested wording since it is considered to be general. Ms. Ashcroft told Ms. Cassel that after the Town Plan public hearing there will be discussion regarding possible changes to the Town Land Use map.

She said following any changes to the Land Use map there would be a renewed discussion on a zoning ordinance. Ms. Ashcroft also explained that the Town Plan is due to expire in October. Ms. Ashcroft said with no Town Plan the Town could not work on zoning.

Mr. Faignant said the purpose of the meeting is for the Board to have a discussion. He said there should be public comment, then stop the public comment so the Board can get to work.

Mr. Chioffi said his biggest bone of contention is the 20% language in number two. Mr. Chioffi said he would like to add the wording “provided that elevation differences between residences and the project within the 500 feet are no greater than 10%“ at the end in number C.

He said said a modicum of screening, that is an acceptable standard to the industry, would provide the barriers we are asking for rather than give a blanket exclusion of solar to someone simply because they sat at a higher level with in the 500 foot distance. He said otherwise it would be impossible to screen down to the 20% level.

Mr. Faignant said he is opposed to making any changes to the Solar Facility Siting Standards that all Board members agreed should be implemented by the Board. Mr. Faignant cited the following facts:

  1. Solar developers get a combined State and Federal tax credit of 37%.

  2. Mr. Faignant said tax payers make up the 37% tax break.

  3. GMP has agreed to pay 18¢ per kW hour for solar power while power is available for 6¢ kW hour.

  4. Mr. Faignant said GMP ratepayers would make up the difference between the 18¢ and 6¢ rates.

  5. Mr. Faignant said the Board had no say in any of the above.

  6. Mr. Faignant said the Board had no say when the solar lobbyist convinced the Vermont legislature to exempt solar development from the educational portion of our tax base.

  7. Mr. Faignant questioned if being a good corporate neighbor is refusing to pay for the education of the children in the community.

  8. He said the solar projects are so complex financially that only GMP and a house full of lawyers can understand.

  9. Mr. Faignant said the power will go on the grid. He said GMP won't even say the power is just for Vermonters.

  10. Mr. Faignant said now the solar developers want to start chipping away at the equity in residents real estate values.

Mr. Faignant said the Board developed the siting standards and agreed that they would be put in place for the Town. Mr. Faignant said Mr. Chioffi has changed his mind and has apologized and has said he was wrong. Mr. Faignant made a motion to implement the Solar Facility Siting Standards just the way Mary wrote them because they were reasonable when the Board agreed and that they are still reasonable.

He said anyone who votes against his motion is putting aside the citizen interest in Town, who are trying to preserve what they have. He said finally, individuals may have a say as to what goes on in the Town. Ms. Ashcroft made a second to the motion. Ms. Ashcroft explained why she voted no at the last meeting and she thanked Ms.Cassel and Mr. Costello for the information they submitted.

Mr. Chioffi thanked Mr. Faignant for his presentation, he said he agreed with what Mr. Faignant said. Mr. Chioffi said he helped create the essence of the whole SFSS document, including section two.

Mr. Chioffi said he has tried not to get too much involved in the application of his philosophical opinion about solar in general. He said if he took the same attitude that Mr. Faignant is taking he would oppose solar until the financials can be improved.

He said he is trying to make the SFSS fair within the context of what solar represents. He said he does not see how the Board is bing fair and equitable to anything, including solar, if the Board puts a discrimatory standard that is not achievable. He said it is the same as saying we don't want solar here.

Mr. Chioffi said Town residents do not oppose solar. He said they just want it to be done in the right place. He said they are offended if it is done in a residential area. He said the public wants the Board to pick out preferred solar sites. Mr. Chioffi said the SFSS did not seem reasonable after he voted for it.

Mr. Chioffi said he will vote no because he never got a chance to vote on his amendment. He said procedurally he was forced into voting no. Mr. Chioffi said he would have known how the Board felt about his amendment if he had made a motion and there was or was not a second to his motion. He said he is left with no other alternative.

Mr. Faignant moved the question. Mr. Hawley began to speak and Mr. Chioffi said “No, no, procedurally you have to vote on his motion”, he told Mr. Hawley. Mr. Chioffi said Mr. Faignant's motion was to move the question.

Mr. Hawley sought a second to the motion. Mr. Zingale cited the fact the Board does not operate under Robert's Rules of Order. Mr. Chioffi then asked Mr. Zingale under which rules doe the Board operate. Mr. Chioffi told Mr. Zingale not to sharp shoot him and to keep his voice out of the Board's discussion. Mr. Chioffi said Mr. Zingale is not a lawyer. Mr. Zingale said he had to research the question for a court matter. He said it was determined that the Town has never adopted using Roberts Rules of Order.

Mr. Chioffi said the Board is going to operate under standard rules of order for any governing body.

Town resident Mr. Peter Yankowski made the following points:

  1. GMP never asked a single person before they declared they were going to make Rutland the solar capital.

  2. In 2012 GMP said their goal was to have 6.25 Mw built by 2017.

  3. In 2013 GMP raised their goal to 10 Mw by 2015.

  4. He said Ecos has proposed a 10 Mw facility on the Cold River Road on forested land.

  5. He said GMP has put Rutland into a bucket of cold water and they are now heating it up.

  6. He said in 2012 GMP announced that solar projects would be on landfills, brown fields and other non productive lands.

  7. He said in 2014 we are seeing solar proposed for neighborhoods, agricultural land and forested land.

  8. He said the people have had no say in the matter.

  9. He cited the fact that the Board had removed a statement in an early draft that stated how much solar power the Town is willing to accept.

  10. He said solar power is not reliable power. Mr. Chioffi said the 23 acres and the 10 percentage language limiting what could be built in Town was in the document but was removed by the Board. He said it was done so against his wishes.

  11. Mr. Yankowski said he has not met a single person who is happy with the proposed Cold River Road solar project.

  12. He said something needs to be done to put the breaks on solar development.

  13. He said the Board should make townspeople aware of all the potential ground mounted solar sites in Town. He said people will be upset when they see all of the potential sites and you will hear from them.

Ms. Cassel said the town's document is not clear and she cited the lack of definitions as a partial reason. She said because the term “solar facility” is not defined she does not know if it would apply to an individual or a behemoth company.

She said there should be a graduation between what she can do with 10 panels and what is going to happen on 56 acres. Ms. Cassel asked the Board to explain what is a “solar facility”. She question if a solar facility is a farm or her right to put up one rack. She said the answer is unclear.

Ms. Cassel said if the Town wants to be more restrictive toward commercial development then the Board should say so. She said there should be specifics regarding roof mounted and ground mounted as well as large and small scale commercial.

She said the SFSS makes no differentiation between small and large scale solar development yet applies the same restrictions.

Town resident and GMP spokesperson Mr. Steve Costello made the following comments:

  1. The solar capital has absolutely nothing to do with the Town of Rutland.

  2. The figures related to the solar capital are for the City of Rutland and were discussed with the City of Rutland.

  3. Mr. Costello said raising the amount of desired solar from 6 kW to 10kW was discussed with the City of Rutland.

  4. Mr. Costello said the City of Rutland will make tens of thousands of dollars starting this year as a result of the use of City land for solar panels.

  5. He said to say solar is being jammed into the Town of Rutland is misleading or just not understanding what is actually happening.

  6. He said his company (GMP) has nothing to do with the Ecos project.

  7. He said GMP does not have a contract to purchase power from Ecos and has not supported a contract.

  8. He said GMP supports projects where the developer has worked with the community, both in the City and the Town of Rutland, and where the projects have been appropriately sited.

  9. He said GMP would not be here if the Town document did not say the groSolar site is an industrial site. Let's be crystal clear nobody is trying to push anything on anyone.

  10. He said to pretend the groSolar site is prime agriculture land that people are just dying to their hoes into is misleading at best.

  11. He said GMP has noting to do with the solar project at US 7 & RT 103 and does not purchase power from the project.

  12. He said the proposed SFSS make no distinction what-so-ever between a 1 mW project or a 2 mW project or something you what to put up on your house.

  13. He said an individual in Town would have to screen their entire home if they want to put solar panels on their roof, so the roof would not be seen by 80% of the neighbors property. Mr. Costello told the Board his statement is a fact.

  14. He said if the intent of the Board is to do as he has said then the Board is shutting solar off in Rutland Town. He said no solar will get developed in Rutland Town because of the screening requirements.

  15. He said GMP builds wind and solar project in places where communities what wind and solar. He said if the town does not want wind and power development then the Town has to say so.

Mr. Yankowski cited the fact that a GMP employee has previously stated that solar power will not result in better air quality in Vermont. He said solar power is not reliable and will not allow any of the base load power to be eliminated due to cloudy days.

Mr. Costello said solar power is actually worth more than 18¢. He said can buy dirty grungy coal power for 6¢. He said solar power has a high value in the energy market as a renewable energy. He said the price of energy is not just the electron cost.

He said the solar power produced in Rutland Town would be consumed with in a mile or two of the solar farm and will not be shipped out of state. He said the value of solar power is greater than the price GMP is paying for the power.

Cold River Road resident, Ms. Lee Hadley, who's home is adjacent to the proposed groSolar as well as adjacent to the proposed Ecos solar farm, told the Board that she is unable to sell her home because of the two proposed solar developments.

Ms. Hadley requested that the Board not allow the trees within the road r-o-w be cut down. Mr. Zingale said the Town is presently researching the width of the Cold River Road.

Ms. Ashcroft made a second to Mr. Faignant's motion to move the question. The motion passed by a vote of 3 to 1. Mr. Chioffi voted in the negative. Mr. Hawley asked all those in favor of the ordinance presented signify by saying “aye”. The motion passed by a vote of 3 to 1. Mr. Chioffi voted in the negative. Mr. Chioffi said Mr. Hawley can only vote to break a tie and that he should vote last. Ms. Ashcroft and Mr. Faignant said Mr. Chioffi is incorrect.

Mr. Faignant moved to adjourn the meeting at 8:01 P.M. Ms. Ashcroft made a second to the motion. The motion passed unanimously.