Home Vermont Panton residents contest proposed solar array

Panton residents contest proposed solar array

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PANTON, Vt. (WCAX) – Conflict is sparking between small-town Vermonters and businesses looking to seed their soil with solar.

Home to two farms and a range of wildlife, acres of fields in Panton could be converted to the state’s largest solar array. Pennsylvania-based SunEast Development and Connecticut’s Freepoint Energy Solutions are heading the project.

“Our goal is to be as low impact as possible and also provide renewable energy to the state,” said Peter Ford of Freepoint Energy Solutions.

The 50-megawatt project is called Viridis Solar and it would cover 300 acres– nearly 230 football fields. That’s enough energy to power more than 9,300 homes annually.

However, the spectacle is sparking backlash among Panton residents.

Sam Marszalkowski, whose family owns a farm on a portion of the land, worries about potential harm to the nearby Dead Creek wildlife area.

“Getting to see and live so closely to wildlife areas, those are really pertinent considerations that we don’t want to disrupt ecosystems just to play into renewable energy goals,” said Marszalkowski.

Panton leaders oppose the specific site for the project, which falls largely outside the town’s designated zone for renewable energy projects.

“At this point, I don’t see how we could get behind something that does not support our town plan or that is not compliant with our town plan,” said Mary Rudd of the Panton Design Review Board.

The Panton Planning Commission recently voted against modifying the energy zone to accommodate the developer’s plan. That means the developers will likely need to shift their layout.

The state says conflict between developers and a town plan has never gone before the Public Utility Commission.

Developers say they won’t harm wildlife and are trying to find common ground within Panton’s preferred energy zone, but what they’re not willing to compromise on is size.

“At the end of the day, we have to sell to customers. We have to have the economic support that so that we’re within the market range. We can’t just have some outlandish idea and sell for whatever price we want,” said Reed Wills of SunEast Development.

Developers say they’re aiming to submit a proposal with the Vermont Public Utility Commission for Viridis within the year.

In a special report Thursday evening, our Sophia Thomas breaks down where the energy from Virdis would go and why it’s sparking questions about the way Vermont hosts renewables. That debuts Thursday on the Channel 3 News at 6 p.m.

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