Solar farm development being done right

  • Stock image of a solar array. Courtesy of Metro Creative Graphics. Metro Creative Graphics

Published: 12/19/2018 9:39:22 PM
Modified: 12/19/2018 9:39:31 PM

Yet another solar farm developer is in a town hall seeking permission to generate clean power from the sun from an unused piece of land – this time in Athol.

The latest proposal, on White Pond Road, is being shepherded through the special permit process by representative of Greenskies Renewable Energy LLC. They were at a Planning Board meeting this past Wednesday.

The nearly 8-acre array would sit on 13 acres on two undeveloped house lots on the corner of White Pond Road and a town-owned access road called Thrower Road. While no formal agreement exists yet, Greenskies plans to lease the land from the owners, Kevin Colo and Arthur Billings, and to negotiate a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, agreement with the town.

These projects are being boosted by the state through tax credits that presumably make them attractive to investors. They often are billed as classic win-win-win scenarios: the town gets paid, landowners get paid and the developers get a return on investment. Sometimes neighbors, who aren’t being paid, worry about a view changing or water runoff changing.

The developers in this case seem to be checking the appropriate boxes. They took pains to point out the site was logged in the not-too-distant past, and therefore “not necessarily pristine or untouched natural environment.”

Preliminary studies offered by Greenskies have been reassuring about where all the rain would go. 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.”

But the town planners, to their credit, aren’t taking the developer’s word alone. The Planning Board will require Greenskies to provide two peer-reviewed studies on the company’s ​​​​​​stormwater drainage impact statement and cost to decommission the array at the end of its typical 20- to 25-year lifetime.

This is smart, and we assume the planners will continue this level of scrutiny to ensure that what we are promised is what we get.

Not-in-my-backyard concerns so far have not surfaced. Quite the opposite. One potential neighbor to the project, Robert Hamlett, ​​​​​​​told the planners, “It’s better than neighbors, I figured.”

Because the project is set back from the road, the developers 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 areas zoned for rural, single-family homes, next to property owned by the 25 Sportsmans’ Club of Athol.

Greenskies is a subsidiary of Clean Focus Renewables of Middletown, Conn., which in turn is owned by the United Renewable Energy Co., which has built 350 solar arrays in 19 states and claims to be the largest commercial and industrial solar developer in the U.S. Having that level of experience behind a project can be a good thing or bad, depending on how well run the parent is – another good reason for diligence by local officials, which will also include the Conservation Commission, whose jurisdiction involves wetlands and can involve runoff concerns.

Building more solar farms to reduce our reliance on carbon-based fossil fuels, is a good thing if done right. From what we’ve seen so far, oversight of this project is in good hands.

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