OFFICE OF THE PLANNING COMMISSION
Town of Halifax, Vermont
PLANNING COMMISSION MEETING MINUTES
August 14, 2018
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:03 p.m. Planning Commission members Bill Pusey, Alice Aldrich, and Kaitlin Stone were present; Turner Lewis and Jason Ashcroft was unable to attend. Also present were William Petrie, Marion Major (WRC), Stephan Chait, and Robbin Gabriel.
Changes and Additions to Agenda
The Board agreed to a preliminary review of a subdivision request.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Minutes approval was postponed due to several absences.
Commissioners gave preliminary review to a subdivision application for 380 Hale Road. Property owners William and Christopher Petrie are requesting the division of a 20.9 acre lot to create two lots, one of three acres with existing house and one of 17.9 acres, for the purpose of satisfying bank requirements as Christopher Petrie applies for a first-time home buyer’s mortage. William Petrie advised that he and Christopher would retain ownership of both parcels. The Board examined the application documents, reviewed frontage and setback measurements, and advised they would set a hearing date for September 11, 2018, 7:00 p.m. Hearing notices will be posted and abutters will receive notification by certified mail.
Town Plan Update—Marion Major, Enhanced Energy
Marion Major, Windham Regional Commission’s authority on Act 174 enhanced energy planning, was present to provide the Planning Commission with information on the energy planning process, and to answer questions. Major explained that developing an enhanced energy plan for the Town is a voluntary process, not a statutory requirement. Should the Town choose to undertake the project and create an energy component for the Town Plan which meets State standards, the Town will then be accorded “substantial deference” status in 248 proceedings related to permitting of renewable energy generation facility siting. Individual town needs vary, said Major; Westminster, for example, is anticipating quite a bit of solar array siting, and has chosen to develop an energy enhancement element. Other towns might not feel the need as strongly.
Windham Regional has provided Halifax with extensive and detailed energy consumption data, primarily in Excel spreadsheet form. (Note: See WRC’s website, http://www.windhamregional.org/, and follow the Energy and Act 174 Energy Planning links for information.) Major cited other advantages of undertaking an enhanced energy component project: Knowledge gained about local energy consumption, and learning to use available tools to calculate future consumption. WRC’s data provides data for analysis in the areas of heating, transportation, and electrical consumption. The Vermont State energy goal is 90% renewable energy use by the year 2050. WRC has already completed two rounds of assistance to towns in developing enhanced plans. Londonderry, Westminster, and Vernon were first round participants and have now either completed or are near the end of the adoption process. WRC is also currently assisting Wardsboro, Weston, Windham, Rockingham, Jamaica, and Grafton with energy component development.
Creating an enhanced energy component for the Town Plan is an intensive process, which takes three to eighteen months, including the adoption process. Those present agreed that rather than attempt to fit the process into the current Halifax Town Plan update schedule, which is slated to be completed and presented to voters at March 2019 Town Meeting, the energy component could be developed as a separate project which could be voted on as an amendment to the Plan in March 2020. Major said Windham Regional is anticipating receipt of another round of grant funding which would cover the costs of WRC assistance to Halifax and would not require either a Town funds match or a separate grant application.
Would it be difficult for some towns, such as Halifax, to meet State 2050 solar energy goals, asked Bill Pusey. Major said goals were based on population as well as resource potential, and, as the Windham region only represents 7% of state population, and several renewable energy projects are already operational, local target levels are lower. If a town does not have a lot of solar and wind potential, its targets are probably pretty low, she added; Brattleboro and Rockingham have higher targets, because of their population. Are private property owners with land suitable for solar required to participate?, Alice Aldrich wondered. Major said no; the data is designed to pinpoint properties that qualify as preferred sites, but any actual renewable energy project undertaken would be by mutual agreement of landowner and developer, and would be entirely voluntary. She confirmed for Aldrich that the general State goal is to move away from fossil fuels. Solar, wind, biomass, and wood are the preferred energy sources. Does Act 74 support regional independence from major sources?, asked Stephan Chait. Yes, said Major, a big driver is to become more energy independent. She told Chait that existing renewable energy sources, such as the solar project at WSWMD on Ferry Road in Brattleboro, have already been calculated into target goals. Kaitlin Stone had questions about possible solar projects, where they might be situated, size of lots, and whether potential solar panel arrays might be constructed on land with agricultural potential. Major said brownfields, or old industrial sites, are the State’s preferred solar site locations, not agricultural lands. The WRC data analysis shows the Halifax megawatt hour target (solar only) for 2050 as 2,597 hours, which translates to 16 solar panel acres. 481 of those megawatt hours could be met by rooftop solar in Halifax.
There was some general discussion about costs, funding methods, grant monies, and the sources of those dollars. Aldrich expressed concerns about possible increased tax burdens, and Stone queried potential effect on employment rates should jobs related to fossil fuel use be eliminated. Major encouraged Board members to experiment with the numbers in the spreadsheets, using their knowledge of local conditions, to change projected end result figures for the Town. Pusey asked how the Town would go about obtaining WRC assistance in developing an enhanced energy component as a project separate from the current Town Plan update. Major said that to proceed, the Planning Commission and Selectboard should jointly submit a signed letter of interest to WRC by September 28, 2018. The project would have a completion date of July 2019, with an amendment to be voted on at March 2020 Town Meeting. Kaitlin Stone made a motion to submit a letter of interest for assistance in developing an enhanced energy Halifax Town Plan element to Windham Regional Commission, and request Selectboard approval and signature of the letter. Alice Aldrich seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. Pusey thanked Major and WRC for undertaking the large amount of work involved in creating the Halifax data spreadsheets; Major said WRC’s Emily Davis was instrumental in producing those files. Major directed the Board to visit the WRC web site (see link in text above) and review the extensive energy planning information available there.
Hearing of Visitors
Pusey made a motion to adjourn. Aldrich seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. The meeting was adjourned at 8:40 p.m.
Planning Commission Interim Secretary