Grafton addresses solar energy in Town Plan, grant for possible project

By Cynthia Prairie
©2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The public vote against a proposed wind farm for Grafton in early November did not dampen the interest nor the need to address renewable energy in its Town Plan.

On Monday night, the Grafton Select Board voted — 3 in favor with 2 abstaining — of backing the Planning Commission’s acceptance of language in the Town Plan, which is in the process of being updated. That language, as proposed by Select Board member John Turner, says, “In its effort to meet the expectations of Act 174, the Town of Grafton is examining the potential for appropriately sited solar power as a renewable energy source.”

The original language, as put forth by the Planning Commission, read, “Grafton is actively seeking suitable solar site.” However a number of people objected to the fact that there was nothing to define who in fact “Grafton” is (the Select Board or the Planning Commission etc.) and questioned whether Grafton was indeed actively pursuing the sites.

Planning Commission chair Eric Stevens said he believed that the Select Board should “take ownership for actively seeking or at least positively pursing a site.” But Board chair Ron Pilette questioned whether the board should “be the ones advancing the agenda.”

In its effort to meet the expectations of Act 174, the Town of Grafton is examining the potential for appropriately sited solar power as a renewable energy source.
Grafton Town Plan

Board member Al Sands said that some Grafton residents might have the same objection to solar farms that they had to the Stiles Brook wind farm — aesthetics — and suggested that the board might want to find out beforehand.  Fellow member Skip Lisle agreed, saying Sands “makes a legitimate point” that there would likely be objections.

Planning Commission member Liisa Kissel responded, “This is just for the planning doc … this is the type of language we need to have” if the Town Plan will have any weight with the state and the state Public Service Commission. Under Act 174, which was passed by the legislature this past summer, the state is asking towns to include in their town plans language that would directly address their commitment to making renewable energy a part of their energy portfolio as the state works toward 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.

Kissel added that the language can be changed.

Sands suggested holding a vote. “If people vote no, you don’t look for a site. If they vote yes, you do look for a site.”

But Kissel said that the issue was not a specific project but the Town Plan “and if it complies with current law. As a Planning Commission, we have to meet the law. … this language must be there.”

After Turner suggested the alternate language, Stevens said, “I don’t have a problem with what John is saying, although it is a little verbose. But I think the two sides are closer.” Turner good-naturedly accepted the criticism. And the board voted, with Al Sands and Cynthia Gibbs abstaining.

The Town Plan still must be completed. The Select Board will then hold public hearings before voting on it.

Proving that the Town of Grafton is taking action on renewables will be a lot easier since the Grafton Planning Commission is now exploring the possibility of obtaining a grant from the Windham Regional  Commission to study and/or implement a clean energy project. The WRC has a pot of $400,000 from the Vermont Yankee settlement and will be doling out amounts of $10,000 to $320,000 to government entities and businesses and other private entities.

There is a required 50 percent monetary or in-kind match and projects, whether a feasibility study or a full project, must be completed by May 31, 2018.

Applications must be submitted by March 31, 2017, a time frame that Stevens admitted “would be a challenge for us.”

The commission will meet next week to discuss the grant, whether the project is doable and form a committee if it is. It will then return to the Select Board for a vote on pursing the grant.

The next Select Board meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 19 at Grafton Elementary School, 58 School St. in Grafton.

 

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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