BENNINGTON — The town’s attorney is recommending that the Selectboard reject a settlement offer from the developer of a pair of controversial solar projects planned for the Apple Hill area.
The offer from Allco Renewable Energy (Ecos Energy) includes a $200,000 payment to the town. Attorney Rob Woolmington’s advice is in a brief statement included in the board’s agenda package for its Monday meeting.
The attorney recommends continued opposition before the Vermont Supreme Court to the company’s appeal of a permit denial for one of the projects, called Chelsea Hill Solar. The appeal stems from state regulators’ decision in 2016 regarding the so-called certificate of public good.
However, Woolmington also is recommending that the town not oppose the company’s Apple Hill Solar project, which is before the Public Utility Commission. The town is an intervenor in both permit proceedings.
The two 2-megawatt solar generating arrays are proposed on adjacent sites in the Apple Hill area, northeast of the interchange at routes 7 and 279 and south of Apple Hill Road. Residents of the area and others have been vocal in their opposition, urging the Selectboard at several recent meetings not to settle with the company and to continue opposing Ecos Energy in its Supreme Court appeal.
Woolmington is expected to give a full presentation on his recommendations at the board’s Monday meeting. The report, following prior discussions among board members and the attorney in executive session, is expected to be discussed and possibly voted on in open session at that time.
Brad Wilson, a spokesman for the developer, said Thursday that the company will reserve comment until after the board has a chance to act on the recommendations.
“I don’t know what all the implications of that are,” said Lora Block, a resident of the area who has opposed the projects.
What the recommendations could mean, if followed, is that the town would continue to oppose the Chelsea Hill Solar plan before the Supreme Court. The appeal relates to the company’s original plan for a facility with a larger footprint and less natural screening, which the PUC rejected in part because it determined the proposal ran counter to provisions in the Bennington town plan for development in the Rural Conservation District.
Since the court appeal was launched, Ecos Energy has rolled out a new version of both the Chelsea Hill and Apple Hill solar projects, reconfiguring how they are situated on adjacent parcels and shrinking the array footprint while adding more natural screening.
What the town apparently would be doing in accepting the legal advice is dropping a key point of its opposition to the revised Apple Hill project, which is farther south from Apple Hill Road, while continuing to oppose the Chelsea Hill project in court, at least in that project’s initial version, pending any further settlement talks between the town and the developer.