Date of Award
Renewable energy deployment and conserving biodiversity are both related to mitigating and preventing the worst effects of climate change. These issues require careful consideration of land use and the consequences associated with land use choices. Large-scale ground-mounted photovoltaic solar energy is a promising clean energy technology, as it can be flexibly deployed, produces low lifecycle carbon emissions compared to other energy sources, and is cost competitive. However, questions remain about how large-scale solar will affect ecological functionality of the Vermont landscape. This report evaluates how the Vermont Public Utility Commission, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, and other parties to siting ground-mounted solar evaluate the ecological impacts from large-scale solar energy. It includes interviews with experts involved in solar siting issues, a review quantifying stipulations issued by regulators to avoid undue adverse impacts on protected natural resources, and an analysis reviewing common stipulations across all large-scale solar installations sited in Vermont. The analysis reveals a pattern of development favoring farmland and areas with no zoning designation near populated areas. Incentives to deploy 2.2 MW or smaller arrays appeared to have fewer natural resource concerns compared to larger installations. Impacts to grassland bird habitats, abutting forest blocks, soil erosion, and rare, threatened, or endangered species were commonly raised across developments. To improve solar siting and mitigate impacts to environmental resources, increased monitoring requirements and improved coordination between state and local governments solar should be considered by the state to facilitate low-impact developments at the local level.
Malicky, Peter T., "Master's Project: Impacts to Natural Resources and the Natural Environment from Large-Scale Solar Facilities in Vermont: An Analysis of Public Utilities Commission Documents" (2023). Rubenstein School Masters Project Publications. 29.