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New solar array proposed on White Pond Road in Athol



Staff Writer
Thursday, December 06, 2018

ATHOL — A new solar array on White Pond Road is working through the special permitting process as a representative from Greenskies Renewable Energy LLC presented plans at a Board of Planning and Community Development public hearing Wednesday night.

The nearly 8-acre array would sit on a 13 acres of land covering two undeveloped house lots on the corner of White Pond Road and a town-owned access road called Thrower Road.

“What we like about this site is it was logged in the past and so it’s not necessarily pristine or untouched natural environment,” said Zach Sawicki, a project developer for Clean Focus Renewables, Greenskies’ parent company. “It’s very clearly been disturbed which makes it a good candidate for solar.”

By a unanimous vote the Planning Board will require the Greenskies to provide them two peer-reviewed studies on the company’s stormwater drainage impact statement and cost to decommission the array.

“It looks like they’re pretty constrained by wetlands on that property,” said Planning Board chair David Small.

Stormwater drainage impacts from the array were assessed by Roger Blair of Caiman Engineering who determined that, “site runoff pattern will not be modified and runoff will not flow through an existing or proposed culverts at this time.”

With 2.1 DC megawatts of generating power, the array on White Pond Road would be enclosed by a fence with a lithium iron phosphate battery stored on site. According to the special permit application, the array would cost $144,516 to decommission after 20 years in operation.

“It’s better than neighbors I figured,” said a potential neighbor to the project, Robert Hamlett as he looked through the project plans on Wednesday afternoon. His only concern is losing access to the access road he uses occasionally to reach his garage if the company were to gate it off.

Because the project is set back from the road, Sawicki said it will not be visible from White Pond Road, but could be seen from Thrower Road. Located east of Lake Rohunta and north of Route 202,  the array would be set among residences zoned as rural, single-family homes, next to property owned by the 25 Sportsmans’ Club of Athol on the eastern side.

While no formal agreement exists as of yet, Greenskies plans to lease the land from the owners, Kevin Colo and Arthur Billings and negotiate a ‘payment in lieu of tax’, or PILOT, agreement with the town. The company employs a team of consultants that identify parcels of land suitable for solar projects, then reaches out to landowners.

“We’re in the basic beginning states of all this,” Billings said. “This is our first time doing this so we’re learning as we go.”

Clean Focus Renewables, owned by the United Renewable Energy Company, has build over 350 solar arrays in 19 states and claims to be the largest commercial and industrial solar developer in the U.S. The company develops, constructs, engineers, owns and operates the commercial scale solar arrays.

“We kind of do everything,” Sawicki said.

Greenskies is a subsidiary of Clean Focus Renewables based in Middletown, CT. Gina Wolfman, a representative from Greenskies, represented the company at Wednesday night’s meeting.  

The building lots' slope ranges from 3 percent to 8 percent, Wolfman said, with certain areas close to 15 percent. According to the project plans, any potential stormwater runoff would discharge near the northeast corner of the property.

Representatives from Clean Focus Renewables and SWCA Environmental Consulting Engineers attended a Nov. 27 Conservation Commission meeting seeking a ‘request for determination’ or RDA. The meeting was continued until Dec. 18 because the company failed to mark the existing wetland areas around the site in their plans.

Clean Focus Renewables intends to own and operate the array for the approximate 25-year lifetime, Sawicki said.

“We have in the past sold after building,” Sawicki said. “But we intend to hold onto it as long as we can.”

The Planning Board will continue a public hearing on the White Pond Road solar array on Jan. 2 at 7:10 p.m.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@atholdailynews.com.

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