Selectboard approves museum’s solar plans

LISA SCAGLIOTTI
Correspondent

Shelburne Museum’s plans to build two solar arrays on its property this fall received a stamp of approval from the Shelburne Selectboard Tuesday when the board agreed to lend its support for the project in the state permitting process.

The selectboard heard a presentation from museum director Tom Denenberg and representatives of the Burlington firm Encore Renewable Energy, which will build the installations.

Plans call for two arrays on Shelburne Museum property – a 500-kilowatt array west of the railroad tracks and a smaller 150-watt array east of the tracks and south of the concert field. Project plans show the larger array on an approximate 3.5 acre site; the smaller installation will use about 1 acre of land.

Denenberg described the museum as a “fairly intense energy user” that spends about $162,000 per year on electricity, about 2.5 percent of its $6.8 million budget. The solar project is meant to offset that cost and reduce the museum’s carbon footprint, he said.   

The project is seeking a certificate of public good from the state Public Utility Commission. As part of that process, the town of Shelburne may weigh in to comment, explained Town Manager Lee Krohn.

Shelburne also has its own ordinance that calls for local oversight of solar projects. It aims to conceal solar arrays from public view as much as possible and minimize other impacts, Krohn said.

“These are very intentional locations,” Denenberg said of the spots for the new arrays. “We placed them to be out of sight.”

The larger array’s location on museum grounds was described as essentially away from public view. The smaller installation will be visible from the concert field and the nearby Waldorf School. 

In introducing the projects to the selectboard, Krohn said he believed the plans met the requirements in the ordinance and help satisfy town government’s energy goals. The recently updated town plan lists a goal to “promote energy conservation, efficient use of energy, renewable energy generation, and a transition away from fossil fuels across all sectors.”

Project officials reviewed slides showing the proposed layouts and discussed details for construction which should take six to eight weeks beginning in October, as long as permits are in hand, according to Derek Moretz, Encore’s chief development officer.

The projects will work around town water and sewer lines and plans also call for planting trees to screen the larger installation from neighbors to the north, Moretz said.

The goal is for the arrays to be operational by the end of the year, project officials said.

The board heard from several residents from the Davis Park neighborhood and Champlain Valley School Board Vice Chair David Connery. Neighbors said Encore officials have been receptive to concerns such as modifying the access to one of the sites to reduce the use of gravel.

The biggest concerns raised focused on how construction activity will use School Street near Shelburne Community School.

“I’m concerned about construction traffic impacting the safety of the kids,” Connery said.

They discussed timing of deliveries and possible help from Shelburne Police during peak morning and afternoon traffic times. Moretz said they would coordinate with town, school and neighborhood sources during construction.

“We’re not going to do anything to endanger anyone going in and out of the school. Period,” Denenberg said.

The board voted 3-0 to support the projects with a letter to the state recommending special care be taken regarding construction traffic near the school. Board members Jerry Storey, Mike Ashooh and Colleen Parker voted; Mary Kehoe and Jaime Heins were absent Tuesday.

Moretz called the selectboard support “a significant milestone” for the projects.

“The solar ordinance of Shelburne sets a high bar for the siting and screening of solar projects. We’re pleased to see the town’s endorsement that both projects comply with their solar standards,” he said in an email after the meeting.

Encore is also the firm the town has contracted with for a solar installation atop the new Pierson Library and for a 25-year contract to purchase discounted electricity through a net-metering project in conjunction with an Encore array in St. Albans.

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