Backlash over Panton solar project plan – WCAX

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PANTON, Vt. (WCAX) – Could the Addison County town of Panton become home to Vermont’s largest solar array?

Freepoint Solar and SunEast Development are behind the so-called Viridis Solar project, a 50-megawatt array that would cover 300 acres — nearly 230 football fields — adjacent to the Dead Creek Wildlife Area.

If approved, it would all happen right next to Cindy Cooke’s backyard. “It’s a crime. It’s just tragic. I feel like it’s tragic,” she said. “I just think all those panels are gonna be devastating, not only to our landscape, but to all the wildlife in our area.”

The developers first floated the project in 2018 on the heels of solar projects in Shaftsbury and Fair Haven. Sharon Ashcraft, who lives near the proposed site, says many community members were rattled by the news. “We were quite alarmed, you know, thinking that this could, you know, just impact the whole area, maybe not in a good way. So, we started paying attention,” she said.

While the developers say they want to avoid scenic and conserved land, local officials say over half the proposed site falls outside of Panton’s proposed “energy area” and into potentially sensitive areas. “At this point, I don’t see how we could get behind something that does not support our town plan or that is not compliant with our town plan,” said Mary Rudd, a member of the Panton Design Review Board.

The project will need approval from the Vermont Public Utility Commission. Their website shows no pending 50 MW projects submitted in Panton.

There are also questions regarding where generated energy would go. The developers say they’d like to sell to Vermont utilities but can’t compete with the cheaper cost of renewable energy from elsewhere like Canada, so the energy generated would be sold to out-of-state buyers. Updates to Vermont’s Renewable Energy Standard could change that, with a vote that will likely come this month requiring Vermont utilities to purchase more power from larger projects in the region.

Ashcraft and other residents say they’re not anti-solar, they just want their town plan taken into consideration. “We have to be very careful about where we place these, and I think there needs to be more thought put into it so that it’s done very responsibly,” she said.

The Panton Design Review Board will vote on May 9 on potential changes to the town plan.

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