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Solar panel array isn’t a ray of sunshine for everyone

August 19, 2012

Roderick and Irene Ames built this solar panel array on Bobbin Mill Road in Newport City. Photo by Christopher Roy

NEWPORT CITY – Roderick and Irene Ames of Morgan did not get all the necessary permits before installing a solar panel array at their Bobbin Mill Road property in Newport City and now the neighbors are wondering what they can do about it. 
The Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) is considering sanctions against the couple for starting the project without the certificate of public good. The couple will meet with the public service board tomorrow.
Rod Ames told the Newport City Planning Commission during a public hearing Thursday that the PSB is waiting to get a letter from the planning commission that states support for the project. During the hearing, the planning commission decided it had no objections to such installations. The board heard some concerns about this particular project, however, and decided to let the PSB deal with it.
 The couple went before the Newport City Planning Commission to discuss the issue about a solar panel array that will produce 150kw of power or less, located at the former Bobbin Mill Factory, which closed in the 1940s. The array is on top of seven trailers that are secured to the ground. Six are box-type trailers and one is a container. There are a total of 260 solar panels, 48 inches by 60 inches each. The couple uses the interior of the trailers for storage. 
Rod Ames explained he mistook the Public Service Board’s Sustainable Priced Development (SPEED) Program acceptance as the certificate of public good. It wasn’t until he went to get an interconnect from the power company that the couple found out they didn’t have all the permits.
“We sent down the approved SPEED from the program,” said Ames. “After two or three days, they informed us this was not a certificate of public good. We contacted the public service board again and realized our application was sitting there, not being acted on.”
They reapplied and started the process over. They notified the neighbors, the zoning administrator and the planning commission about the project. Ames explained that the PSB wants to make sure nobody objects to the project. 
Daniel Roy, who owns two pieces of property next to Ames, voiced strong opposition to the project at the hearing because, Roy said, it seemed like Ames built the project without getting any of the permits. 
“If anybody would like that in their backyard, I’d be surprised,” said Roy. “I don’t know how that will affect your property values, but it will affect my property values.”
Roy claims Zoning Administrator Paul Dreher told him he wasn’t paid enough to check on every project.
Charlie Drown, who also owns property near the project, questioned why the planning commission did not hold the hearing in April instead of waiting for the project to be completed. After pressing for an answer, Dreher said the planning commission wasn’t aware of the project.
The solar panels shouldn’t be in a residential neighborhood, said Drown.
Dreher said he issued a permit for a fence on the property and the planning commission doesn’t regulate utilities. The SPEED program, said Dreher, is an expedited permitting program to get alternative non-fossil fuel energy systems online.
Roy, who stressed he doesn’t oppose the concept, said he’ll be looking at the panels for more than 30 years. 
The planning commission can do very little about the issue because the authority to regulate energy projects falls to the PSB, Charles Elliott said. 
The Newport City Council will discuss the issue tonight.

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