Even though it doesn’t feel it’s required, or necessary, the Public Utility Commission has agreed to a solar developer’s request to appoint a new hearing officer to oversee an investigation into a pair of projects being built off Cold River Road.

On July 26, the Public Utility Commission, which oversees permitting for renewable energy projects in the state, issued an order appointing attorney John Cotter as the hearing officer for an investigation into the activities of Otter Creek Solar LLC. He replaces attorney Jake Marren.

Otter Creek Solar LLC is a subsidiary of Allco Renewable Energy Limited. It has certificates of public good (CPG) for two solar arrays to be built on a parcel of land off Cold River Road. Over the winter, comments from an environmental watchdog group, Vermonters for a Clean Environment, prompted the Department of Public Service, and ultimately the Public Utility Commission, to investigate whether or not the company had violated the terms of its CPGs. The group alleged, among other things, that by accessing the land from Cold River Road for site clearing work on both projects, the company was in violation.

The Public Utility Commission has indicated in past filings that the access points for the projects may impact whether or not they’re two projects or one, which in turn could impact their standard offer contracts.

On July 15, Otter Creek Solar, by way of Allco Renewable Energy Limited President and General Counsel Thomas Melone, filed a motion to have Marren recused as the hearing officer for the investigation, saying he’d represented the Public Utility Commission against Otter Creek Solar in a dispute before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over how the state was handling the standard offer contracts. According to the Public Utility Commission’s July 26 order, FERC declined to take action against the Public Utility Commission.

“The issues in these matters are distinct and unrelated,” writes the Public Utility Commission (PUC). “The legal arguments raised in the FERC dockets related solely to questions about Vermont’s implementation of (the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act).”

The PUC wrote that the FERC proceedings had nothing to do with Otter Creek Solar’s certificates of public good.

“The FERC cases also bear no relation to the factual and legal question of whether Otter Creek’s two facilities are part of the same plant under Vermont law,” writes the PUC. “The FERC cases also did not address the question of whether the Commission may revoke Otter Creek’s standard-offer contract in the event that the Commission determines that the capacity of the Otter Creek 2 facility exceeds the limits established by state law.”

Since the only commonality between the FERC dockets and the ones before the PUC are that they involve Otter Creek Solar, there’s no reason Marren should recuse himself, writes the PUC.

“However, out of an abundance of caution, and to avoid any controversy, and in order to prevent delay in this proceeding, the Commission appoints John Cotter, Esq. as hearing officer in this case,” the PUC wrote.



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