500kW Array Goes Online in Sharon

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This story was first published in The Herald of Randolph, in the February 22, 2018, edition.

A solar project located in Sharon Vermont is finally operational. In May 2016, Norwich Solar Technologies, a company based in White River Junction, applied to the Public Service Board (PSB-and since renamed the Public Utilities Commission) to authorize the installation and operation of a 500 kW group net-metered solar electric generation facility, which would sit on about 2 acres of land. “We are currently completing final commissioning and testing. We expect to be done within the next several weeks,” said Joel Stettenheim, president of Norwich Solar Technologies, a year and a half after having first introduced the project to PSB.

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The project took a long time to finalize, due to the site location. The site for the project sits on the border of the Day Farms Historic District, one of only a handful of historical landmarks in Sharon. Even though Norwich Solar Technologies reconfigured the layout and agreed to provide additional native screening to minimize the impact it would have on the historical site, the Selectboard argued that the project would still have an impact on the general on scenic beauty and aesthetics of the Day Farms District. In the 1973 Vermont Historic Sites and Structures Survey, the Vermont Division of Historic Sites recorded the Day Farms Historic District. The significance of the district consists of the two farms and building around the schoolhouse as well as the open agricultural setting of the district. “The Historic District's open agricultural setting is typical of rural Vermont nineteenth century farm communities centered around a district schoolhouse,” according tothe nomination form that resulted in the district’s inclusion in the State Register of Historial Sites.

The three Selecboard members at the time filed a motion to intervene to the PSB’s review of the application. Locals and neighbors also left public comments to PSB arguing that the location was not appropriate for such a project.

On September 7, 2017, PSB issued a certificate of public good, concluding that the issues raised by local officials had been resolved by the reconfiguration of the layout and vegetation screening.

David Holmes who owns property adjacent to the project was reluctant at first about the project. When interviewed in May 2016, he said that even though he would prefer to see the land preserved as pasture, he still argued at a community meeting in favor of the project, pointing out that because Sharon doesn’t have zoning laws in place, an individual could put anything on the land that might have a greater impact on the historical district.

When interviewed again after the completion of the project, David Holmes said that now that the project is up and running, he is happy about it. “I thought we would see more of it than we actually see,” pointing out from his living room window where behind his barns, he can see a couple of rows of solar panels are facing the road. “The historical aspect [of the neighborhood] is already altered by all the electrical poles all over the place,” he argued, pointing to a cluster of poles in front of his house.

View from Holmes' driveway

The power from the array is going to a collection of local businesses: Vermont Maple Solar, The Woodstock Farmer's Market, and All Serve Self Storage of Wilder. The Town of Sharon will also benefit from the project, receiving 5kW (equivalent to about $1500) as an annual credit from Norwich Solar Technologies, and on-site educational signage about the array and historic district.

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