Solar developer wants to grow crops

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BENNINGTON >> A solar developer says it wants to clear and farm land that it owns while it continues to seek state permitting for two controversial projects on the parcels in question.

A subsidiary of Allco Renewable Energy Limited seeks to clear the proposed site of the Apple Hill and Chelsea solar projects for "horticulture crops," according to a motion to intervene filed with the state's Public Service Board this month.

The board has not ruled on the motion, according to Clerk Judith Whitney. Both the town and the Public Service Department seek more time to respond to the developer's request – motions that the developer has opposed in subsuquent filings.

Two subsidiaries of Allco filed for certificates of public good from the quasi-judicial entity that regulates energy projects in 2014. Apple Hill Solar and Chelsea Solar LLC both proposed 2 megawatt solar arrays on a 27.3 acre parcel near the Apple Hill Neighborhood and Route 279 interchange. The PSB denied Chelsea Hill's permit in February after finding the project "would unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region and would have an undue, adverse impact on aesthetics." Allco then filed numerous motions – including amended site plans that reduced the amount of cut forest and increased setbacks – and criticized the agency on procedural grounds.

Another subsidiary of Allco, Otter Creek Solar LLC, has not yet filed a permit for another proposed project: Battle Creek Solar, a 4.99 mW solar array on 41 acres of industrial zoned land behind Home Depot.

The New York City development company's property and land holding arm, PLH LLC, filed a motion to intervene for Chelsea Hill on Sept. 16. The entity owns the 27-acre site where the solar panels would be located and an adjacent 5-acre orchard, according to the motion.

"PLH seeks to use the land for alternative uses while Chelsea and Apple Hill seek their certificates of public good," Thomas Melone, CEO of Allco Renewables, wrote in the motion. "In order to prepare for next year's growing season, PLH plans to prepare both parcels of land for growing horticulture crops."

Melone wrote that growing activities would only take place on the larger parcel.

The motion cites the state's Act 248, which states in part, "no person... may begin site preparation for ... an electric generation facility," and requests the PSB "confirm that such activities do not constitute site preparation for an electric generation facility."

"Although Vermont law is clear that those activities constitute preparation for farming, in the interest of transparency, PLH has requested that the Public Service Board confirm that such activities do not constitute site preparation for an electric generation facility under [Act 248]," Melone wrote in an email to the Banner on Thursday.

Melone said crops such as corn would be grown.

Legal counsel for both the town and Department of Public Service have motioned to extend the deadline to respond, from Oct. 4 to Oct. 28.

Merrill Bent, in a Sept. 23 filing, wrote that town attorney Robert Woolmington is out of the country until Oct. 5.

Allco opposed the town's request in a Sept. 26 motion. Thomas Melone wrote, "the town has not shown any cause, much less good cause, for an extension of time."

Jeanne Elias, special counsel for the Public Service Department, wrote in a Sept. 27 filing that the town's request was "reasonable" and that her department also needed more time.

On Thursday, Bent clarified that Woolmington left the country a day after Allco's Sept. 16 motion to intervene. Bent wrote that Vermont rules of Civil Procedure allows time extension "without motion or notice" and "Woolmington's absence from the country is more than sufficient to warrant the extension of time requested."

Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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