standing solar field panels

Sun file photo

NORTH STONINGTON — Members of the Board of Selectmen are moving forward in their support of a revised solar development plan that would relocate the sites of proposed solar arrays to only the south side of Route 184, a change the company said was made to satisfy requests by town neighbors and officials.

First Selectman Bob Carlson and Selectwoman K. Nicole Porter voted Tuesday to approve a motion supporting an alternative version of the solar development plan that focused only on the southern side of the Providence-New London Turnpike rather than splitting the development along both sides of the road. Selectman Brett Mastroianni, who had pleaded to table the motion for one week in order to conduct further research, abstained from voting on the matter.

Carlson and Porter each said they felt that the “southern-only” proposal satisfied several concerns that the town expressed earlier in the Connecticut Siting Council hearing process for the project and was the better fit for the community, noting that the property had already been designated for solar development.

“If I take the emotions out of it, and try and look at this from a purely logical perspective at the 3-3 vote for the original plan, and I see significant movement here that siting council will probably approve, I try and think about residents of the entire town and what the best course of action is,” Porter said. ”It does not feel good now and it will not feel good a week from now, but I don’t see enough here to fight it, and this is the best option for the town as a whole.”

Carlson said staff with Silicon Ranch, the Tennessee-based company seeking approval to build the solar array, has worked with the town throughout the year and that the “southern-only” option is certainly the preferred course of development from a town perspective.

“It's a difficult decision but one we have to make. We will have the opportunity to comment again when this is reopened and if we don’t take the best plan that is in front of us, then we are going to end up with the second-best plan or the third-best plan, and then we are looking at a far more unfavorable situation,” Carlson said. “That’s what we don’t want.”

Under the proposed alternative plan, which was presented to the public Tuesday by Attorney Ken Baldwin of Robinson & Cole, representing Silicon Ranch, and Silicon Ranch Director of Project Development Ali Weaver, the company would alter their request for a four-array, 9.9-megawatt solar field along Route 184 and instead offer a revised, two-array system to be built south of the roadway only.

The revised plans would require tighter spacing and make it difficult to provide the additional buffers requested, a concern that both Baldwin and Weaver said the company hoped to address, and would reduce the overall development from 9.9 megawatts to 8.35 megawatts. Both Weaver and Baldwin said the company would need to renegotiate with Eversource to make that happen and would take a financial hit, but were willing to take the hit to be good community partners.

The latest effort comes as Silicon Ranch prepares to ask the Connecticut Siting Council to reopen a hearing into a 3-3 decision on Sept. 1 following a member’s resignation that temporarily scuttled the project’s approval.

The proposed project, which was first presented to the council in the first few months of 2021, called for the installation of solar panels on 47 acres of forested land the company owns off Route 184. Land used would have included four lots west of Boombridge Road and north of Interstate 95, as well as one lot north of Providence-New London Turnpike.

Silicon Ranch, which owns and operates over 140 solar facilities in 15 states, had purchased the project rights from another developer who had the site pre-selected by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in 2016. The parcel to the north of Route 184 was later added to the plans and approved by DEEP, but the project was never developed.

During a site walk in late March, neighbors and local residents expressed concerns that the clear-cutting of 44 acres for the project would drastically impact the community, as well as infringe on wetlands throughout the area.

Among concerns were neighbors who said the project could potentially lead to the installation of solar panels within 100 feet of their homes, as well as additional noise pollution created by clear-cutting trees that help serve as a natural buffer separating homes from Interstate 95. Others expressed concerns that the panels and construction could have permanent, negative effects on groundwater, including an aquifer that serves as a source of water for many in that area.

"This is something that could have long-lasting impacts on this region," said neighboring property owner Catherine Maxwell during the March site walk. "There is a lot of wetlands and archaeological history here, and it would be sad to see that all destroyed to build a solar array."

Residents again expressed concerns on Tuesday, with neighbors saying that either proposal would have a negative impact on the environment, surroundings and quality of life.

Weaver and Baldwin said the company has worked with neighbors since the beginning and have remained committed to being a good community partner. The site had already been approved for solar development before the company acquired the land, and Weaver said the company chose to make changes in an effort to curb as many neighbor concerns as possible.

“The town and neighbors all expressed that they would like to see the proposal moved south of the road only, and we listened and incorporated that feedback,” Weaver said. “This will require some work; it will require we renegotiate our power agreement with Eversource, and it represents a loss for it, but if that’s what it takes to move forward then we are willing to do it.”

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