1,800-acre solar project proposed for Barre, Shelby

Photos by Tom Rivers: Joseph Green, director of development for Community Energy, discusses a plan for a 200-megawatt solar project in Barre and Shelby. He is shown speaking during the Barre Town Board meeting.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 March 2020 at 11:42 pm

BARRE – A major solar energy project has been proposed for Barre and Shelby.  Community Energy wants to build a 200-megawatt project – Orleans Solar LLC – on 1,800 acres of land in the two towns, with the project close to the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.

The big array of panels is not expected to have an significant environmental impact on the wildlife or wetlands, Joseph Green, director of development for Community Energy, said at tonight’s Barre Town Board meeting.

The project, if it passes local and state approvals, is expected to generate $750,000 annually in revenue for local governments.

“This is going to have a big impact on local taxes,” Green told residents at the meeting tonight.

National Grid transmission lines run right through the project area. Community Energy is seeking permission for an interconnection to get the power on the grid. Community Energy says it will generate enough electricity for 36,000 homes.

This map from Community Evergreen shows a preliminary layout for the project which would be near Townline Road in Barre and Shelby. The green in the lower left corner represents the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. The solar panels would be south of Hemlock Ridge Road with nearly all of them east of East Shelby Road.

The project is eyed for a sparsely populated area near Townline Road. The project would go on land that is currently mostly used for farming.

The project is listed as utilizing 1,800 acres, but Green said the solar panels and substation would take up about 1,200 acres. The company also needs to provide a buffer for setbacks near property lines and wetlands.

Among the solar array, about two-thirds of the land also will be open spaces, he said.

The company will put up a fence around the project, and will have “a robust planting plan” that is friendly to pollinators, Green said.

Residents and town officials can share their views on the project during many upcoming public meetings. The project also needs to go through the state’s Article 10 process for reviewing energy projects that are more than 25 megawatts.

Tom Tuffey, one of the co-owners of Community Energy, said solar will be more popular as an energy source as coal-fired plants are decommissioned.

Green said the entire process would likely take about three years before there would be construction. He told residents at the Barre meeting the proposal is in the preliminary stage.

He wants to hear from residents and local officials throughout the process.

“We try our best,” he said. “You can’t please everyone but we try our best.”

Community Energy has projects in 20 states. The company was founded in 2009 and has developed 1,700 megawatts of solar and wind energy.

Green and Tom Tuffey, one of the co-owners of the company, said Community Energy has a proven record of working to minimize impacts of the projects through its site selection process and then through screening with plantings.

“We are not the kind of company that would just thrust something in front of someone’s home,” Green said.

The project doesn’t have the visual impacts of wind turbines. Heritage Wind is proposing 33 turbines that are about

From a distance the arrays of solar panels look like a lake, Green said.

The state’s goals for more renewable energy also is a factor in the project, and a push for renewable energy projects is good for the planet.

“We as a society have to do this,” Green said about the large-scale solar and other renewable energy.

Tuffey said solar is now much more affordable now and can compete with other electricity sources.

Green said Community Energy’s staff will become known to local residents as the company goes through the process.

He said the company would share more details as it finetunes to the application after hearing from regulators, residents and local officials.

“This is a preliminary project so I can’t give you the exact details,” he said.

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