Tucked into the the Selectboard packet for June 27 (at pdf page 85) under agenda item 10 is a proposal to give “preferred site status” to all land in Norwich.† What does that mean? It means the Town gives up all local control regarding the sitting of solar farms.* It also means that prime agricultural soils, ridge lines, and scenic roads are on par with brownfields, quarries and sanitary landfills as sites for solar farms.**
This unusual and groundbreaking policy should be vetted as a proposed addition to the Town Plan. Instead, it is set as an action item on the Selectboard agenda hidden under the heading of “Energy Committee." That, to me, is bad government. I am troubled by this backdoor attempt to set policy for the Town.
By my count the Selectboard has held seven public meetings dedicated to the Town Plan. I don’t recall this proposal being mentioned, even though the current draft of Town Plan
addresses Siting Standards and Guidelines at page 10-3.†† Why was it not raised at those hearings? Why is it being raised now?
At first blush, I do not like the substance of the policy. But my objection here is that proposal should be properly aired as an amendment to the Town Plan, starting with the Planning Commission. Here, the item is hidden under the topic Energy Committee. Transparency on vacation.
† The proposed policy says: absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, a site proposed to be designated as a "preferred site" under the VT renewable net metering rules shall be so designated by the Energy Committee and the Selectboard.
* Without preferred site status, a large solar farm cannot file with the Vermont PUC a petition for certificate of public good. When town approval is needed for preferred site status, the town is free to say no.
** PUC Rule 5.100
at page 10 defines “preferred site”. The definition includes parking lot canopies, brownfields, sanitary landfills, designated federal sites, gravel pits and quarries. Preferred site also means a “specific location” designated in a Town Plan or a “specific location” jointly designated by the Selectboard and Planning Commission.
†† The draft Town Plan gives four parcels “priority” for solar energy generation sites.