The Public Utility Commission has decided to open an investigation into Otter Creek Solar, raising the issue of whether its two projects on Cold River Road are, in fact, one and the same.
According to an order filed Thursday by the PUC, the commission had granted certificates of public good to the 2.2 megawatt Otter Creek 1 and 4.9 megawatt Otter Creek 2 solar arrays, to be built on the same parcel of land off Cold River Road in Rutland Town.
Site clearing work began this past winter, which prompted a complaint from Vermonters for a Clean Environment, an environmental watchdog group, accusing Otter Creek Solar of violating the terms of its certificate of public good by clearing the site using an access road off Cold River Road instead of Windcrest Road.
Also, the complaint alleged the company violated the certificate by how it handled wood material, but the Department of Public Service (DPS), which represents the public in matters that go before the PUC, declined to address that issue.
Ultimately, the DPS investigated the watchdog group’s complaints and recommended that the PUC open its own investigation. According to DPS filings, Otter Creek Solar should have filed for an amendment on its certificate of public good if it was going to alter its plans about which roads to use.
Otter Creek Solar is a subsidiary of Allco Renewable Energy Ltd. Thomas Melone, president and senior counsel for the company, argued in response filings that no violation has occurred, and there’s a difference between site clearing work and construction.
Melone did not respond to attempts to reach him Friday.
“The Commission has reviewed the Department’s request, the response of Otter Creek, and the records in Cases 8797 and 8798,” reads the PUC’s Thursday order. “The Commission finds good cause to open an investigation into issues arising from Otter Creek’s use of an access road off Cold River Road to perform work related to the Otter Creek I facility.”
It notes that when a substantial change is made with regard to how a project is to be built, a developer must seek an amendment to its certificate of public good.
“The Commission will investigate whether the use of the driveway off Cold River Road to access the Otter Creek I site constitutes a substantial change to the approved proposal,” the order reads.
A larger issue raised by the PUC’s order is whether or not these two facilities are indeed two facilities.
“Otter Creek’s use of a new driveway off Cold River Road to access both facilities has implications beyond any potential violation of a (certificate of public good or other rules),” reads the order. “To demonstrate that the facilities were separate plants, Otter Creek’s witness testified that the Otter Creek I and Otter Creek II facilities would not share infrastructure, such as access roads.”
If one road is being used for both projects, it raises questions about the sites being two distinct operations, according to the PUC.
“This investigation will examine this issue and determine whether the Commission should revoke Otter Creek’s CPGs and standard-offer contract or take other steps if the Commission finds that Otter Creek’s facilities are in fact a single 7.1 MW plant,” reads the order.
The PUC’s order requires Otter Creek Solar to come before it and show why it shouldn’t be found in violation of the certificate and state rules. It must do this by July 10, according to the order.