Bennington to restrict solar facilities


BENNINGTON — The Select Board intends to make amendments to the town plan limiting the size and location of solar arrays.

Monday night was the first public hearing. The second hearing will be at the next regular board meeting on April 11. The board can then vote to adopt the amendment at the following meeting.

While solar facilities are regulated by the Vermont Public Service Board, the PSB has been known to look to local planning documents when crafting permit requirements. It recently denied a fairly controversial solar project near the Apple Hill neighborhood, citing elements of the existing town plan in its decision.

"The essence of it is that we feel the town is committed to alternative energy, but we expect to be part of the process in determining when, how, where, and why," said board Chairman Thomas Jacobs.

The amendment would apply to solar facilities over 10,000 square feet. Initially it applied to facilities over 150 kilowatts, but the board decided it would be best to regulate them based off how much space they take up rather than how much power they produce, since solar arrays are expected to become more efficient in the coming years.

Facilities would not be permitted in places of scenic views, floodways, wetlands, places with rare or threatened plants and wildlife, ridgelines – such as Mount Anthony, Whipstock Hill and Bald Mountain – and a host of other locations.

The amendment has a list of areas the town would prefer arrays be built. Among them: Roofs, near commercial or industrial buildings, naturally screened areas, brownfield sites, gravel pits, closed landfills, former quarries, and other areas specifically identified as suitable by the Select Board.

The draft was created by a committee appointed by the board. The committee consisted of board members Donald Campbell, John McFadden, and Jim Carroll. State Rep. Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington, was also on it, as were Bennington residents Rick Carroll and Barry Horst.

Assistant Town Manager Dan Monks said the document has been endorsed by the Planning Commission.

McFadden said the committee had to be careful not to be too restrictive, otherwise the PSB was likely to discard it entirely.

Still, the document is fairly restrictive, according to Monks.

"It severely limits the amount of sites available for solar development, but I think it's enough so we have some flexibility," he said "Most developers would say this is a pretty restrictive document. I'm not saying it's inappropriately restrictive."

He said the two solar projects most recently approved by the board, one on Shields Drive in the Maneely Industrial Park, and one off Route 7 South across from the Bennington County Sheriff's Department, met this amendment's criteria.

— Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567 Ext. 115


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