The Select Board has chosen the solar contractor for a net-metered array, but some of its members have strong feelings about screening the project from view.
On Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to allow its Energy Committee to enter into negotiations with Green Lantern Solar, a Waterbury company, to build a 150- to 500-kilowatt solar array over the capped landfill at Northwood Park.
Rutland Town has had several solar companies propose net-metering projects in recent months. The net-metering program allows entities, such as towns, to get credit on their energy bills, depending on what the power generating facility — typically a solar array — produces.
The Energy Committee, consisting of board members Joe Denardo, John Paul Faignant and Mary Ashcroft, met April 10 to hear solar proposals. It unanimously recommended Green Lantern. The full board then tabled the matter, as Board Chairman Joshua Terenzini wanted more time to review it.
According to minutes from the Energy Committee meeting, Ralph Meima, director of development at Green Lantern Solar, said a 150-kilowatt array could save the town $38,000 per year. He proposed paying annual rent of $3,500, but that’s negotiable. Rent on a 500-kilowatt project would be $10,000 per year.
“My concern is the screening,” Terenzini said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Maybe it’s too early to talk about, but it’s something I’d like the committee to look at. I would like to see some substantial screening so you don’t see any of the solar panels from the Northwood Park, the road and driveway in and out of Northwood Park.”
Terenzini said that since news of the proposals has gotten around, he’s had two residents say they’re OK with a solar project at the park, but don’t want to see it.
“I don’t think it’s an unreasonable request if we’re going to be doing negotiations to say we should look at some serious screening,” Terenzini said.
Selectwoman Sharon Russell agreed.
“That is a very pristine place up there, it’s a very special place,” she said.
Faignant said there’s already some natural screening there that could be expanded. He asked Terenzini if that would be satisfactory.
Terenzini said it would, provided it’s done better than the screening around another, larger, solar project off Cold River Road.
He was referring to the Otter Creek Solar project, which began site clearing work during the winter.
Denardo appeared frustrated over the screening discussion.
“It’s the whole solar thing, Josh, where people just panic, and it’s like the world’s going to end,” he said.
“It’s not a panic, Joe, Rutland Town is inundated with solar. Rutland Town has some of the largest solar projects on it in the state,” Terenzini said.
Denardo said Route 7 is widely considered to be a beautiful stretch of highway, despite acres of solar projects built north of Route 103 with little to no screening. He said it was premature to find fault with the project when true negotiations haven’t begun. Terenzini disagreed, saying now is precisely the time to identify issues.
“You can’t please everybody all the time and nothing we’re ever going to do is going to make everybody happy,” said Denardo, adding that if a few trees make more people happy, he’s fine with it.
By consensus, the board directed the Energy Committee to make sure proper screening for the project is part of the next discussion with Green Lantern.
Prior to this discussion, during the public comment phase of the meeting, Phil Allen, owner of Same Sun of Vermont, who has made several solar net-metering proposals to the town, asked if the final deal with Green Lantern would be made public.
“I think there was a lot of confusion as to what the Select Board wanted as far as a simple lease arrangement, and I feel information must have been given to Green Lantern for them to alter their proposal to things that were not wanted and were wanted,” he said. “But that being the case, if you’re not going to vote on Same Sun’s proposal, even though it is owned by Rutland Town people who pay taxes here and are 10 minutes from servicing the array, I would just ask if you are going to be making public what the deal is with Green Lantern because if Green Lantern’s deal is better than Same Sun’s, you’re making an extraordinary deal, and as a taxpayer in Rutland Town, I hope you make an extraordinary deal.”
Allen lives in Rutland Town, while his company has its headquarters in Rutland City.
Faignant said the final contract will be a matter of public record, but because it hasn’t been negotiated or agreed to, there’s no information to share.
“For public record, our goal is to save the town $4,650 a year for seven years, and then it would save the town $31,000 a year for 18 years, then it’s up to the town to continue the array or have it removed at our expense,” Allen said. “That’s what I’d like to put on public record, so that people know, when the Green Lantern deal is a matter of public record, that it’s a better deal than that. Since I assume you wouldn’t take a lesser deal.”
“There’s a lot of things that go into determining what and who we decide to do business with, it’s not just price,” Faignant said.
Allen said he would hope that’s the case.
“We didn’t get to talk to the Energy Committee, and we were not asked to clarify our proposal,” he said. “I think that’s interesting, and I appreciate, Selectman Terenzini, that you didn’t allow a vote two weeks ago. I was hoping you would allow this vote tonight for Same Sun of Vermont.”
CLARENDON — Their professional names are Nana, Mom-Mom and Grandma Maggie, and they’re in it for the hugs.
They’re four of the infamous Foster Grandmas that serve throughout Rutland County schools. Every day they volunteer at Clarendon Elementary School, offering homework help, advice and support.
“No experience necessary,” said Deb Suttle, also known as “Mom-Mom.” “The hugs are the best.”
“There’s 20 students in the second grade,” said Lori “Nana” Coons. “A teacher couldn’t possibly notice every little child that has some other tiny problem. ... It’s my job to see what else is going on. To be an extra pair of eyes and ears.”
Foster Grandparents is a national program developed in 1966 that places income-qualifying residents age 55 and older in schools and day care centers as teaching assistants and general support, providing that loving touch only grandma and grandpa can provide.
“It’s like a family here,” Suttle said.
After a background check and finger prints, all foster grandmas and grandpas are paired with teachers based on what the teachers need and what the volunteers prefer.
“We have grandparents that have been there for 20 years,” said Foster Grandparents Rutland Coordinator Deb Roy. “They’re very devoted and very caring. They act as mentors and role models.”
“If she’s not here, that’s the first thing (the students) ask me,” said third-grade teacher Shannon Alexander said of Castleton native Maggie Holden, or “Grandma Maggie.”
Suttle has been a foster grandma for the past two years, and works in Jamie Therriault’s fourth-grade classroom.
“She’s been with me my whole teaching career,” Therriault said. “I felt like because Mom-Mom was a teacher, she had perspective that I was just barely seeing and noticing. When Mom-Mom came in, I had the opportunity to do so much more. ... Every student can have an extra set of eyes, or someone to talk through something. It really does operate like a family.”
“Jamie and I are best friends,” Suttle said. “They gave me the option of going to kindergarten, and I said, ‘I can’t leave Jamie!’”
Coons said she became a foster grandma after her own two grandchildren had grown up almost 11 years ago. She attends Kerry Valente’s second-grade class every day.
“I always choose second grade,” said Coons, who has also assisted in special education classes. “Second grade is the best ... their personalities are developing, and they’re so smart ... I converse with them all the time. They’re my kind of people.”
“If there’s a little child whose feelings may be hurt, or has been crying, I try to find out what the problem is and try to help them,” Coons said.
Coons has missed very few days in the past two years, and spends “Nana-Time” every day reading aloud to the class, among other duties.
“She’s got some phenomenal skills,” Valente said. “When she’s away from school, she’s thinking about school and how she can better serve kids. ... I tell her she’s a right arm to me. ... I’ve had two of the best years of my whole life (with her).”
Coons sits in on guided reading lessons, serves as a math tutor, organizes notes and homework, and is constantly attending to the students, Valente said.
“Every day (after Nana-time), the kids tell her ‘Good Job, Nana,’” Valente said.
Holden found the program seven years ago. She volunteered in day care, grade school and at Rutland Intermediate School before she came to Alexander’s third-grade class.
Holden bonded with Alexander during Alexander’s first year as a kindergarten teacher, so when she moved up to third grade, Holden went along too.
“She is essential,” Alexander said. “It was nice to have somebody wise, somebody knowledgeable about children to lend an ear. She roots for the underdog: she sits with them, works with them ... and they want to make her proud.”
Every day, she takes her seat at “Grandma Maggie’s Table” right up at the front of the classroom, where she can see all of her “grandchildren” and tend to them as necessary.
“Correcting of papers, correcting of folders,” Holden said. Holden, Coons and Suttle eat lunch with the students, help keep the classrooms sparkling and take students out for recess so their teachers have enough time and energy to concentrate on creating personalized lesson plans and managing student learning curves.
The Grandmas go on field trips, de-escalate anger situations and comfort students when they need emotional support, so issues and conflicts are addressed immediately.
It’s not just the students that the Foster Grandmas form relationships with: Teachers always request a foster grandparent for their classroom, and grandparents are unwilling to leave the teachers and age groups they’ve bonded with, the grandmas agreed.
But now, foster grandmas are in short supply, with only four at Clarendon Elementary.
“You just have to love kids, you have to have a lot of patience and want to get out there,” Roy said. “We have many more openings than we have grandparents. ... You’ll love it. You feel wanted and needed, and the kids definitely need the encouragement and support from the seniors. Kids win, grandparents win.”
A blaze lit up the back of the house at 75 South Main St. on Wednesday morning, leaving 10 people homeless. The cause of the fire was unknown as of Wednesday evening, although Vermont State Police have said the fire is suspicious.
“The first floor is pretty much untouched by fire, the second floor has a lot of damage,” said Rutland City Fire Chief Jim Larsen. “The first floor has water damage, and the second floor has fire and a lot of smoke damage.”
Larsen said the call came in at 5:08 a.m., and Rutland City firefighters were at the scene by 5:11 a.m. to flames rising more than 10 feet above the roof of the house.
“There was a significant amount of fire,” Larsen said. “It was pretty quick to knock it down, and fully extinguished within 30 minutes.”
Larsen said the city fire department was assisted by the West Rutland Fire Department, Rutland Town Fire Department, Clarendon Fire Department, Regional Ambulance Services, Department of Public Works, and the building and zoning department. The cause of the fire was still being investigated as of Wednesday afternoon.
No one was harmed in the fire, and Larsen said the tenants were welcomed by Christ the King Church until the Red Cross arrived to help them find housing. The scene was turned over to State Police.
In an update Wednesday evening, police said the fire originated in the southwest stairwell area, traveling up the rear stairwell and spreading throughout the structure. A specific point of origin and cause could not be determined, and police have tentatively listed the fire as suspicious as they continue to investigate alongside Rutland City police and fire departments.
“Electrical and natural causes were ruled out in this area,” State Police said of the fire’s origin.
Tenant Anthony Baker said residents woke up at 5 a.m., when the flames had begun to show.
“We were all sleeping, and Chaz ran through everybody’s room and got us all up and got us out of there,” Baker said, gesturing to one of the other displaced tenants, Charles “Chaz” Doucette.
“It blew the windows out, the fire was huge,” Baker said.
“My arm just started getting warm ... and flames were coming in,” said Doucette, who has lived in the house for two years. “It came up through the back porch area.”
Baker, who lived in the house with his partner and mother-in-law, said the 10 tenants, who said they each rent out rooms for $500 per month, don’t have access to furnace heat and instead have to use electric heaters and the stove to keep warm.
“This place is so not up to code, it’s not funny,” Baker said.
When Bruce Van Guilder moved in two years ago, he said the owner told him the house was under construction and the heating was in the process of being fixed.
“They were still working on it when I started living here,” Van Guilder said. “The furnace has always been the same, we’ve been using electric heaters or the ovens as long as I’ve been here.”
But property owner Bill Dydo, who said he owns 19 properties in Rutland County and Washington County, New York, said the furnaces are working, though some tenants may use electric heaters of their own accord during very cold periods.
“I doubt that it’s an electrical fire,” Dydo said. “My guess would be that somebody fell asleep with a cigarette or something they weren’t supposed to be doing.”
Dydo said he’s rented the property for the entirety of the two or three years he’s owned it and never had a problem with the electrical system.
Some of the tenants could be moved to other locations, Dydo said, as was the case with tenant Scott McCullough, who said he lost everything.
“Somebody screwed up,” McCullough said.
Anyone with information on the fire is asked to contact Detective Sgt. Tom Williams at the Rutland VSP barracks, Rutland City Police Detective Emilio Rosario, or call the Arson Tip Award Line at 1-800-ARSON. Up to $5,000 could be awarded to information that leads to an arrest, police said.
Set for trial
A jury for the trial of Steven D. Bourgoin, accused in the 2016 highway death of five teenagers, has been chosen. A3
Toast of Broadway
Vermont singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell’s Broadway debut, “Hadestown,” is nominated for a whopping 14 Tony Awards. A5
Alice in Rutland
Rutland Youth Theatre’s production of “Alice in Wonderland Jr.” is set to open Friday at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland. A7
Good to be King
Eli King. An eclectic blend of folk and rock from the ’60s through the ’90s. With a unique song list, King combines acoustic rhythms with spirited vocals. 7 p.m. Hide-A-Way Tavern, 42 Center St., Rutland, email@example.com.