Village Council denies appeal to stop solar array
- Published: July 31, 2014
At its July 21 meeting, Village Council voted unanimously to deny an appeal of Planning Commission’s June 23 decision to allow a solar array at Antioch College. The decision means that the college solar project is allowed to go forward.
A group of nine villagers, seven of them neighbors of the college, were appellants in the appeal request, which asked Council to remand, or send back, the solar array question to the Planning Commission due to procedural inadequacy. Procedural inadequacy means an important argument has not been adequately considered, or proper procedures have not been followed.
However, after hearing the appellants’ case, Council members stated that the appellants were rehashing arguments already made before Planning Commission and not introducing new information or procedural flaws.
“I think all of these issues were already discussed, most in detail,” Council member Brian Housh said. “I understand there are differences of opinion over content, but I think the Planning Commission did its job.”
At issue is a five-acre solar array on the former college “golf course.” The 1 megawatt array, which would be constructed in partnership with the firm Solar Power & Light, would, along with the college’s current geothermal heating and cooling systems, allow the school to be the first college in the country to meet all of its power needs from renewable sources, College President Mark Roosevelt said at Monday night’s meeting.
“We’re seeking new and better ways of living, because the ways we live and farm in this country are not sustainable,” Roosevelt said of the array, stating, “We consider this extremely consistent with the values and vision of the village.”
The land is zoned for educational use, and the solar array fits that profile because it will also be used for teaching purposes, along with providing co-op jobs, Roosevelt said.
But Planning Commission did not adequately consider two main reasons the solar array should be denied, according to the appellants. First, the village has consistently, in its Comprehensive Plan and visioning process, identified open space as a priority, and the golf course should be preserved as open space.
“The Village Comprehensive Land Use Plan specifically designates the Antioch golf course as land to be preserved as open space,” according to a statement by Phil King. “The Commission treated this directive as conflicting with language in the Plan calling for promotion of green energy. But this is a false dichotomy. Placing a solar installation elsewhere, under the auspices of the Village — or College — would both preserve this precious open space and promote green energy.”
The Planning Commission was also remiss in not specifically addressing why the solar array would be compatible with the character of the general vicinity, the appellants said.
“Allowing a solar array or any other man-made structure to be placed on the golf course would be a violation of the historical context and in direct contradiction to the wishes of the village electorate,” Steven Roe said in a prepared statement.
The appellants, in a statement presented by Laura Curliss, also stated that Planning Commission had not adequately addressed questions regarding noise, light and glare, along with drainage issues resulting from the solar array.
Other appellants were Mike Kelly, Laura Ellison, Lauren Miller, Chad Stiles and Hans Jacobson.
However, Council members, who all said that they had read the minutes and viewed videos of the Planning Commission meetings, stated the appellants did not show a good reason to revisit the solar array question.
“My sense is that Planning Commission addressed all these issues,” Marianne MacQueen said.
New information was presented by Lauren Miller, who read from emails between Energy Board members that she obtained through a public records request. Several of the emails indicated that the board had deliberated via email, in violation of Sunshine laws, Miller said, and she also questioned the presence on the board of Brent Henderson, an employee of the solar company that will contract with the college. The Energy Board made a recommendation to Planning Commission to approve the solar array.
“It feels absolutely improper to have someone on the board who is working both ends of the deal,” Miller said. “I’m appalled that no one else has expressed concern about this.”
Henderson did recuse himself from voting on the Energy Board recommendation.
However, Council members later stated that the email information, while troubling in its indication that Village commission members may not understand Sunshine laws, did not affect their vote because the Energy Board was only offering an unsolicited recommendation on the solar array issue, and the recommendation did not appear an important component of the commission’s decision.
Still, Council President Karen Wintrow, at the end of the meeting, suggested that Council members who are appointed to Village commissons are the group’s “watchdogs” in terms of public process, and better education on Sunshine laws and transparency appears to be needed.
Other items of Council’s July 21 agenda will be in next week’s paper.