PITTSFORD — The town has decided to create an energy plan, but won’t submit it for state approval for another eight years.
In June, the Planning Commission approached the Select Board with misgivings about having to create an “enhanced energy plan,” which is needed to gain the town “substantial deference” before the Public Utility Commission on proposed energy projects, like solar fields.
Mark Winslow, chairman of the Planning Commission, told the board in June that creating said energy plan would be a far more time consuming and onerous process than previously thought, plus adopting it would require opening the town plan up for review. Winslow and others did not wish to do this, as getting the town plan approved by the Rutland Regional Planning Commission last year was difficult and some felt it wouldn’t be successful again if reopened.
The town plan won’t be due for an update for another eight years.
“I think they feel as though they’re at a fork in the road and they need guidance from the board as to whether you want them to continue to try to satisfy the regional planning commission with a full blown energy plan, which may have some unpleasant mandates, or as (Selectman) Dave Mills has suggested, develop a town energy plan for our own use and benefit without seeking regional or state approval, or simply stop work on this topic and focus on other business. I think those are the three options that are probably before you now,” said Town Manager John Haverstock at the July 3 meeting.
“I don’t see much difference anyway, because they can vote however they want,” said Selectman Thomas Pelkey, referring to the Public Utility Commission.
The Public Utility Commission’s authority over things like solar facilities overrides municipal land use laws. To counter some of the backlash to this, the state now allows towns to have more say in the hearing process if they have “Enhanced Energy Plans” that meet certain criteria. Ed Bove, executive director of the Rutland Regional Planning Commission, said Friday that the regional planning commissions are used by the state to certify these plans. Creating them is optional.
“It seems to me, from what I read in these minutes, that the Planning Commission didn’t want to reopen the town plan,” said Selectman Joe Gagnon. “It’s also in the remarks that I read that the state changed the rules of the game in the middle of the game and I feel as though our Planning Commission are on top of this pretty well. I don’t think I’m knowledgeable enough to overrule the Planning Commission.”
Mills, a former Planning Commission member, attended the July 3 meeting via phone. He said the town should have an energy plan, but needn’t necessarily seek the state’s approval for it yet.
No vote was taken, but it was the board’s consensus to direct the Planning Commission to craft an energy plan to possibly be incorporated into the town plan when it comes up for review.
“By putting together a plan of our own liking, they can’t say we’ve ignored them and that we’re trying to work against them,” said Gagnon. “It may not be what they want but it’s something this town has put together and is something to work from.”