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Editorial: Towns should proceed carefully when adding solar projects


Friday, January 19, 2018

Just two months after the Orange Planning Board approved installation of a solar array at 180 West Orange Road, another solar company is in the spotlight.

NB Development LLC — represented by landowner and lumberman Fred Heyes — has submitted applications for special permits for two solar farms that would involve using adjacent parcels at 110 and 110A West Orange Road. The two arrays would cover about 63 acres and produce about 13.7 megawatts.

In late October, the board voted unanimously to allow West Orange Solar LLC to install a ground-mounted solar array at 180 West Orange Road, about a half-mile from Heyes’ property.

The talk of so much solar did leave at least one resident feeling concerned during a recent planning board meeting on the Heyes property proposal, and it’s likely to bring out more questions as the applications advance.

Rice Flauders, an Orange resident for more than 50 years who lives on West Orange Road, said that although she’s “a huge supporter of alternative energy sources,” the environmentalist in her worries. She says the area is historic, beautiful and abounding with wildlife.

“To have them all so close together in one little rural community gives me a lot of concern,” Flauders said of the solar farms, adding that the town needs “to be very measured in our approach” to any construction, not just solar.

We agree. Solar is a good thing, but as with any large-scale development, it makes sense to consider each proposal carefully, so that its impact won’t hurt the town.

In the case of the first solar installation, the planners did lay down seven conditions. West Orange Solar LLC must keep vegetative grass coverage on 75 to 80 percent of the property after construction is completed, including a 100-foot well setback consistent with Board of Health regulations, and not use blasting, herbicides, pesticides or growth regulators.

We would expect the same sort of scrutiny on the Heyes proposals. So does Heyes, apparently. He volunteered to submit an additional 25 pieces of information to the Planning Board by Jan. 24, information that is not required of him, but that he suspects people will seek during a public hearing on Feb. 20. It’s nice to see this sensitivity to the concerns of neighbors.

Orange currently doesn’t have zoning regulations specifically governing solar arrays, so the Planning Board’s general oversight role is particularly important. It looks like the board so far has taken that responsibility to heart.

Looking forward, the town might want to consider developing more specific bylaws to regulate solar arrays, giving the planners and other town boards more concrete guidance about how to regulate other renewable energy developments that very likely will turn up in coming years.