Rowe hears solar details; public hearing June 12

ROWE — If the Planning Board approves a special permit and site plan review for a 6-megawatt solar farm this spring, Seaboard Solar LLC hopes to have the 36-acre solar array built by the end of next summer.

About 30 residents and town officials attended the first of two public presentations about what would be the state’s largest energy-producing solar farm proposal. A second information session is planned for June 5, starting at 6:30 p.m. in the Rowe Camp and Conference Center.

Seaboard Solar principal David Thomas and Michael Loin, manager, of Bertin Engineering Associates discussed building plans and answered questions, which were mostly about safety concerns and about the project’s impact on the town.

Attorney Kevin Parsons of Shelburne Falls, a spokesman for the project, said the group intends to submit its full application to the Planning Board by today. He said the Conservation Commission and other town boards will have time to review the proposal and offer feedback before the scheduled public hearing on June 12.

The plan is to purchase 100 acres of wooded land owned by Robert and Mary Ann Dykeman of Tunnell Road. The solar farm itself is to be built about 1,700 feet from the road and will be bordered by at least 130 feet of woodland separating the array from the views of neighbors. The double racks of pole-mounted photovolaic solar panels will be about 10 feet tall. There will be a maintenance road around the solar array, a detention pond and two inverters and a transformer.

When asked about the financial impact on the town, Parsons said the proponents have offered the town $36,000 per year in payment in lieu of taxes for 20 years, with a 1.5 percent adjustment each year. Also, the company is offering to provide solar-generated electricity for all town-owned buildings at a 10 percent discount.

However, the Board of Assessors is still researching this issue, as well as how much of a bond to request to cover potential decommissioning costs, to protect the town in case the solar array is abandoned.

Loin explained that the process of assessing the value of solar systems is still relatively new. He said that, unlike the former Yankee Atomic nuclear power plant, which brought a lot of employees, new residents and more need for town services, the solar array will have a minimum impact on town services after it’s built.

Assessor Rick Williams pointed out that the state has allowed for payments in lieu of taxes for solar and wind facilities, in part because “there’s no precedent for real value” of these systems.

He said the Department of Revenue “has allowed and encouraged PILOT agreements, until there’s more precedent for how to value them.”

“Everyone expects they will be taxed at the sales tax rate, based on the power generated,” added Thomas.

“The reason why these large solar projects are being treated with this type of (PILOT) agreement in other municipalities, is there is a question as to what portion of the improvements are taxable,” Parsons explained. “We have also offered to the Town that, should Massachusetts ... clarify the proper taxation that should be charged on the solar electric generating apparatus, then we would default to that — or whichever is greater,” said Parsons.

“As the large solar generating facilities are new to the market place (just in the last year) there is an interest on behalf of municipalities and the developers to agree on a plan for payment rather than potentially fighting about it for years to come,” he added.

If the proposal is approved, the next step would be for a National Grid feasibility study, for electrical engineering and financing, with interconnection approval and finance agreement anticipated in November. After final engineering and building permits with the town are obtained, Seaboard Solar would close on the sale of property, and land-clearing would begin next spring.

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