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Green Energy and the New Haven Lawsuit

Solar+panel+field+3So it’s come to this.

The select board in New Haven is spending taxpayer money tilting at windmills. Well, actually, tilting at solar panels.

The board is using public money to ask the Vermont Supreme Court to overturn approval of an appropriately sited, state-approved solar energy project in the town.

The board and a minority of New Haven residents have criticized solar projects in the town for being too visible from Route 7. These projects, they worry, can disrupt valley and mountain views.

So what about this project that is the subject of the select board’s expensive, no-doubt-doomed lawsuit?

It must be a huge spread placed up against Route 7, right? Something that takes solar panels and sticks them right in your face as you drive by? And ruins the neighbors’ views from their houses and yards?

Guess again.

The select board has chosen to go after a project on the Russell Farm property (where the family no longer lives) that:

* Is set back 900 feet to the west of away from Route 7 and at least 80 feet from other properties;

* Is not visible from either the highway or abutting properties,

As Gaen Murphree reported in a recent article in this paper, “The site is down a steep incline, west of the white farmhouse and barn facing the state highway a little north of New Haven Power Equipment.”

Not exactly a view-spoiler, in other words.

But the select board has decided to oppose the project anyway. Because, well — just because.

It turns out that the board isn’t much concerned with the aesthetics of this project. Solar developer Green Lantern Group did what they were supposed to do. The company made a considerable, successful effort to site the project so it won’t affect neighbors or anyone driving the highway.

But the board is attacking the project anyway, as part of its anger at the way the state has in the past approved these projects.

Which makes the board’s position all the more mysterious.

With the recent passage of S. 260 led by Addison County’s State Sen. Chris Bray, towns will have a much bigger voice in how solar and wind energy projects are placed and built within their borders.

Apparently that’s not enough for the select board, which wants to fight yesterday’s battles. And which should have an “interesting” time explaining the town’s unnecessary legal bills to property owners who complain about high property taxes.

Vermont has a goal of 90 percent renewable energy sources by 2050. As part of that commitment, the Public Service Board gave the New Haven project a certificate of public good.

For future projects of this kind, S. 260 gives towns more say about where future solar farms will be located and built. But first, each town that wants a bigger voice must develop an energy plan consistent with the state’s long-term plans for renewable energy development.

Developing such a plan seems like a lot better use of New Haven’s public money than pursuing a fruitless lawsuit.

Looking at the larger picture, one irony about opposition to green-energy projects in Vermont is this: Many of the objections come from the same people who complain that the state doesn’t adequately emphasize economic development. People who are pushing for a more business-friendly atmosphere in this state.

If Vermont had a clean, green industry that is growing, providing jobs and incomes so folks could continue to live here? You’d think that industry would get plenty of public support, wouldn’t you?

According to the latest state analysis, clean energy now provides one of every 17 jobs in Vermont — from solar and wind to energy efficiency jobs.

So when towns oppose solar and wind energy, it’s good to remember that there’s a substantial economic cost — not just in taxpayer dollars, but in jobs and income for our young families, too.

S. 260 provides a substantial measure of Vermont-style local control for towns. And it also keeps Vermont on track to produce more of its own green energy. Instead of relying on fossil fuels from far-away, unfriendly places like the Middle East.

The opposition to solar energy projects — especially ones that have no aesthetic impacts — reminds me of a petulant young boy who got the ice cream cone he wanted, but who won’t enjoy the ice cream because he doesn’t like the way his mother handed it to him.

If our public officials are going to behave that way in the future, it won’t be just a figurative ice cream cone that’s melting. It will be the entire planet.

– Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at http://www.gregdennis.wordpress.com. Email: gregdennisvt@yahoo.com. Twitter: @greengregdennis.

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