• Rutland Town will have say on solar
    November 27,2013
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    The front page article of the Sunday Rutland Herald of Nov. 24 is so wrong in so many ways that everyone should wake up and take note. First of all, the article is not on the editorial page, and yet the author, Brent Curtis, by his poor choice of both the commentators in the article and his own choice of pejorative descriptions, has not done either the officials of the town he is decrying, nor the truly challenging issues of solar inclusion in our state any service at all, while writing basically an opinion piece with very few of those opinions coming from anyone who is actually elected to justify them.

    First of all, the Solar Renewable Energy Siting Standards being proposed by the Town of Rutland for inclusion in its town plan are not “dubbed” anything — that is what they are officially called, and they’re nothing more than the usual and customary planning process that is used by every community in Vermont to determine appropriate parameters for any development within their borders.

    We in Rutland Town do not prohibit McDonald’s corporations, General Electric, Green Mountain Power or any other enterprise from locating within our borders. Neither do we propose that any of these be constructed without any scrutiny to location, appropriateness, or magnitude, and we certainly do not espouse their construction, without limits, anywhere and everywhere, just because we value them.

    This is also the case with solar construction, and if Rutland Town is saying anything with these guidelines, it is that we have every right to expect what we feel are reasonable parameters and locations for their construction. “Welcoming them with open arms” and allowing them to be constructed anywhere, at any time, and in any size are two diametrically opposed views, and even with our desire to impose reasonable restrictions on these projects, I have never heard even one of our town officials say that they “opposed” solar.

    It certainly would have added some factual rather than emotional class to the article to have gotten at least one comment from the officials of the town rather than inundate the article with obviously biased comments by officials of state government who are appointed rather than elected, and are in lockstep with our governor in his quest for solar supremacy at any cost, certainly at the cost of local towns’ independence in both governance and land use planning.

    Some of the most basic facts absent from this article show the glaring unilateral position of its author. The Sunday edition of this paper has become almost an exclusive environmental platform of “feel good” journalism, and in this case serves no educated, inquiring mind.

    The first basic fact is that the Legislature, following the edicts pronounced by the governor, has established a very lenient process which has been truncated from the more restrictive criteria of both Act 250 and even the utility processes of Act 248. This was done specifically because the state has said, essentially through the relaxing of scrutiny, “we want you here — pretty much anywhere.”

    That being said, it should make any reasonable person wonder, with such relaxing of the normal scrutiny of these projects, why they would petition, as groSolar has, for an even further relaxing of the process to allow an “expedited hearing” under the PSB rules. Expedited hearing, to me, means to heck with the locals, their input, their wishes, their requests for reasonable restrictions, their land use, their taxes, their responsibility to their citizens. Just give us our permit and essentially let us do whatever we want wherever we want.

    I, for one, do not think that is the way that we want our state to develop. After all, wasn’t it the considered opinion of some pretty foresighted planners of yesteryear that we not inundate our roadsides with those nasty things called billboards? I cannot think of any other decision that was motivated pretty much totally by an aesthetic viewpoint such as that. And here in Rutland it was duplicated by an equally aesthetic decision by our 250 board to require the McDonald’s corporation to repaint the entire building because their original choice of red was displeasing to the board. Never mind that the Rutland High School building, right across the street, and the Rutland Raiders home colors, are red and white.

    The second element of factual journalism absent from the article is that the Legislature has exempted these projects from the educational tax that business and industry pays to the state, which represents about 85 percent of the normal tax responsibility to help fund our schools. So they pay no tax to support the local communities, and yet we are to embrace them as “good corporate citizens.”

    This, in addition to the tax credits and subsidies, and a most favorable per-kilowatt rate, cause these projects to be mostly taxpayer-funded, and yet we are left asking, “Where is all the profit money going” and “where is our local stake in this venture?” It was said in the article that this is comparable to another project in the $10 million range. As citizens and taxpayers ask yourself how much a business that comes into your town that is valued at $10 million would pay to support your infrastructure requirements, and also how many employees would benefit from jobs to the economy from that $10 million?

    At this writing the Legislature is even now contemplating changes to this tax-exempt status. Just what do you think they have in mind? I’ll just bet that it isn’t sharing any tax with the local towns that are being asked to provide the sites for all these wonderful projects. Pretty much like Act 60, which is an abject failure, the state stole every dime of the industrial and commercial tax base from every community in the state for its own purposes and only gave back to the towns they wanted to, creating a very disproportionate funding structure for our local communities.

    This assault on our local tax base has hurt Rutland Town tremendously, and now we have a corresponding loss with these solar projects. This state cannot hope that towns can long survive if they do not make tax revenue available to those towns that is in relation to the development that takes place there. To continue to steal all the commercial base while allowing only property taxes on residential property to carry all the municipal load is a losing proposition to all communities in Vermont and a drastic economic hardship.

    Ms. Stebbins is an unabashed solar proponent whose attitude is obviously “any solar, anywhere, anytime — just to meet the state’s goals of energy independence,” and that is neither provable nor feasible, and just as we have a constant battle between states’ rights and federal rights, so here we have a battle between this state’s rights and local rights. I would guess that it all flows downhill, folks, and it appears that we are at “the end of the stick.”

    This is but one of the instances where I believe we need to change that, and until Ms. Stebbins takes up residence here in Rutland Town, I for one couldn’t care less what she thinks about how much or where the solar should go in our town. And what a stupid statement to make that, “I don’t know anyone who thinks a gas station is pretty but we use them every day.” Yes, we certainly do, and we use toilets, disposable diapers, and even methadone clinics as well — but we do not put them in residential areas, in open fields with prime agricultural soils, or any other place where we feel they are inappropriate — but maybe I am being too harsh in saying that you might just object to any of these right in your side or front yard.

    Am I wrong, or do you have some personal standards by which you choose to live your residential life? If so, then you should respect ours, regardless of your zealous solar advocacy.

    In summation, whether or not the siting standards have been fully approved in our local planning process , they should still be applicable and enterable as community concerns in the normal hearing process designed for these projects since they have been formally accepted by the Select Board, and it is undeniable that the town of Rutland certainly has legal standing in the PSB process, which we will certainly exercise as our responsibility to our community.

    Donald J. Chioffi is a member of the Rutland Town Select Board.
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