Those with an interest in where solar arrays will be placed in town should attend a pair of public hearings in late May and early June.
For over a year, the Rutland Town Planning Commission has been working on updating the town plan. It does this regularly, but this time around there are two new sections, one energy development and one for natural resource management. Barbara Noyes Pulling, chairwoman of the Planning Commission, said Monday that of the two sections, the energy plan is the largest and most impactful.
In addition to her service on the Planning Commission, Pulling works for the Rutland Regional Planning Commission and is tasked with assisting member towns with their own energy plans. According to Pulling, the energy plans are optional, but if towns want more say in the state permitting process for energy projects, they need a plan in place.
In Rutland County, Benson and Sudbury have completed their plans. Rutland Town, Brandon, Proctor, Pittsford, Tinmouth and Pawlett are all working on theirs. All are in varying stages of completion, she said.
The public hearings for Rutland Town will be held at the Town Office on May 28 and June 11, both at 7 p.m., according to a notice posted to the town’s website and social media pages. A draft of the plan can be viewed online here: https://bit.ly/2H4z4dW
Pulling said what Rutland Town’s plan has that many in the area currently lack is a list of “viewsheds.” These are areas along town and state roads where the views are particularly good. Rutland Town’s plan has these areas counted and rated based on how aesthetically pleasing they are. Pulling said having one of these viewshed analyses done is normally quite expensive, costing tens of thousands of dollars, but here the Planning Commission worked with a “geographic information system” (GIS) mapping class from Middlebury College. It added a year to the process, but the students were able to provide a quality inventory of the town’s viewsheds.
Pulling said such analyses are common around Chittenden County. Other towns in Rutland County have considered them, but the cost can be prohibitive.
The plan also contains a list of “preferred sites,” areas where the town believes energy projects, mostly solar, are best suited. Pulling said this should hopefully prevent any contentious projects from being proposed, as developers will know ahead of time where solar is preferred and where it’s not.
Pulling said most renewable energy projects being floated are solar arrays. There are limited options for wind, hydroelectric projects are difficult to permit, and there doesn’t seem to be much interest in biomass.
Rutland Town and Brandon, she said, are popular towns for solar projects given their access to three-phase power lines, flat areas and proximity to Route 7.
“The town plan belongs to the people of Rutland Town,” said Select Board Chairman Joshua Terenzini on Monday. “Their input and opinions are always welcome and we look forward to seeing folks at the public hearings.”
According to the latest draft of the plan, there were initially 20 scenic viewsheds, but the Middlebury students’ analysis whittled it down to 16.
“Going forward, all proposed renewable energy generation development in these scenic resource areas shall have site specific aesthetic impact analyses completed by a certified landscape professional — paid for by the developer — that are consistent with the methodology used in the Middlebury College analysis and inventory,” reads part of the draft. “Site specific aesthetic analyses will determine whether a proposed generation project will have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics, historic sites, air and water quality, the natural environment, the use of natural resources, and public health and safety.”
According to the plan, its purpose is to, “... conduct comprehensive energy planning at the local level while also achieving state energy goals — most importantly, the goal to have renewable energy sources meet 90 percent of the town’s energy needs by 2050.”