In a decision the Vermont Public Utility Commission (PUC) claims “protects views” from a state park, the PUC recently denied local developer Peck Electric permission to build a 144 kW solar project in Charlotte, Vt., which would have been located in the western viewshed of Mount Philo State Park.
In its order, the PUC says it agreed with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, the Vermont Department of Public Service, and the Town of Charlotte in ruling that the proposed solar project, if built, “would materially interfere with the public’s use and enjoyment of the park,” given that “sightseeing the western viewshed from the summit is a principal reason why people visit the park.”
In making its ruling, the PUC stated that “we are keenly aware of the unique nature and special status of Mount Philo. … It is the oldest park in the state park system; it is one of the four most visited state parks in Vermont; it is widely renowned for its views west from the summit of the pastoral landscape and of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountain; it is the only state park with a summit easily accessible to all Vermonters, regardless of age or physical abilities.” The PUC also highlighted the importance to its ruling of the testimony and arguments against the project offered by the Agency of Natural Resources, which is the governmental entity charged with preserving Vermont’s parks and protecting the public investment in them.
The proposed project would have consisted of 650 ground-mounted solar panels, standing approximately nine feet tall at the highest point, occupying approximately one acre of land. Given the elevation of the park, the PUC says the planting of trees on the boundary of the project would not have provided sufficient screening.
A Burlington Free Press report says Peck Electric applied to build the project in September 2015, and the company is “reviewing its options but has made no decisions for the future.” In an emailed statement, Jeffrey Peck, president of Peck Electric, told the Burlington Free Press, “We genuinely believed this was a well-sited and well-planned solar array. While the array would have been visible from the top of Mount Philo, it would not have detracted from the view in any significant way – if anything, I believe a small-scale clean energy project would have complemented the vista and serve as a small visual representation of the value that Vermonters place on buying locally produced clean energy.”
The Burlington Free Press report, which includes reactions from locals, is available here.