Vermont high court affirms approval of small solar project

The Vermont Supreme Court on April 29 rejected an appeal by the Town of Rutland and five adjoining landowners of the Vermont Public Service Board’s grant of a certificate of public good (CPG) to Rutland Renewable Energy LLC for construction of the Cold River Solar Project, a 2.3-MW solar photovoltaic facility.

The town and neighbors argued that the board incorrectly held that the project will not unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region, will not have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics, and will not have an undue adverse impact on historic sites.

In December 2013, RRE filed a petition requesting a CPG to construct and operate a solar electric generation facility of up to 2.3 MW (ac) in the town. The facility would be located southwest of the intersection of Cold River Road and Stratton Road, on approximately 15 acres of a larger parcel of land under contract for purchase by RRE.

The project would principally include: about 542 solar racks supporting about 10,000 individual panels, although exact wattage, number of panels, and panel configuration will be determined during final design and procurement based on snow and wind analysis; underground electrical lines connecting arrays to combiner boxes and inverters; two 1150 kW inverters with a combined nameplate capacity of up to 2.3 MW (ac); two 1500 kVA step-up transformers or one 2500 kVA step-up transformer; a perimeter fence; and an access area and new curb along Cold River Road to service the northern area, and an extension to an existing access area along the road to service the southern area.

In examples from the court decision:

  • The appealing parties tried to argue that the board failed to take into account regional impacts of this project, with the court writing: “The Board recited the testimony that no one project is likely to have a regional impact and acted well within its discretion in finding the assertion of regional impact inadequate and not persuasive. We affirm the Board’s conclusion.”
  • There was an argument about protecting local aesthetics, with the court ruling: “The Town never identified the area of this project for special protection to protect aesthetics or scenic beauty. In fact, the municipal plan specified that its future use would be for industrial/commercial development. The site is a low-lying meadow, and the solar panels generally do not interfere with views of surrounding vistas.”
  • On a point about whether the project would offend the “average person,” the court said: “In determining whether there has been an undue adverse impact, considering the sensibilities of the average person, the Board can and should consider all vantage points, including from private property. Here, the Board did consider neighbors’ perspective and required extensive screening to mitigate that impact. Under our standard of review, we affirm the decision.”
About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.