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Bright future?

New solar farms shine a light on how Orange can host eco-friendly businesses.

  • Recorder/Mike Phillips<br/>A solar array has been installed on Hunt Farm in Orange.

    Recorder/Mike Phillips
    A solar array has been installed on Hunt Farm in Orange.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Rows of solar panels line the fields behind the Orange Police Department.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Rows of solar panels line the fields behind the Orange Police Department.

  • Recorder/Mike Phillips<br/>A solar array has been installed on Hunt Farm in Orange.
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Rows of solar panels line the fields behind the Orange Police Department.

ORANGE — As part of its new economic development plan, Orange is seeking to draw in new environmentally friendly businesses.

As producers of renewable energy, solar farms may fit that bill, and town officials don’t need to search high and low to find new solar companies wanting to build in Orange.

“We have a significant amount of solar projects already in town and we continue to have interest expressed by new businesses wanting to come to town,” said Town Administrator Diana Schindler.

There are several reasons Orange has attracted three major solar projects.

Pat Larson, a member of the town’s ad hoc Energy Committee said, “there’s a regional commitment on the part of many residents here in the North Quabbin to energy conservation and renewable energy.” These people work actively to resolve potential stumbling blocks, making sure that solar businesses get started in Orange.

The town also has some undeveloped land that is accessible to existing electrical infrastructure which might attract other solar farms as the electricity can be easily connected to the grid.

Borego Solar originally intended to build solar panels at the transfer station, but after encountering conflicts between National Grid and state time frames, Larson said the company decided not to move forward with that installation at this time.

Nonetheless, the town arranged with Borego to buy, at a discount, electricity produced at a solar farm in Warren. Larson estimates the town will save about $45,000 per year on its electricity bill because of that deal.

Schindler points to solar farms as a green business that support the town’s economic development plans by “creating an image of Orange as supporting renewable, environmentally friendly small businesses.”

Three solar installations are now on-line or close to completion at:

∎ the site of an old quarry in Tully in the northern part of town

∎ the Hunt Farm along Route 202

∎ Steve Canning’s land behind the police station.

Planning Board Chairman Bruce Scherer said all three installations sit on about 12 acres and produce about 3 megawatts of power each. Some residents have expressed concerns that state incentives enabled many solar farms to be built before towns have had a chance to develop process and procedure that fully vets the project.

During the building of the solar farm in North Orange, residents expressed concerns the construction threatened the habitat for rare species in woods that had grown up on the project site. Neighbors also complained the panels were too close to houses. That issue was resolved between neighbors and the company with an extended buffer.

Other residents complained to selectmen the solar farm on the Hunt property was obscuring the view of scenic farmland. At a meeting last year, Selectboard Chairwoman Kathy Reinig asked if a screen of shrubbery could be planted to hide the panels.

But Hunt told The Recorder he was not interested in the plantings as “shrubs have a way of overgrowing” and scratching tractor and truck mirrors and fenders. The plantings would also block sun from reaching the solar panels and adjoining pastures and decreasing productivity.

Larson added that the land Hunt used for the installation was untillable and could not be used for growing crops.

Larson said that in addition to creating renewable energy, the solar installation allows the Hunt family to sustain the farm they live on, keeping many more acres open and in production.

Hunt added that most people who talk to him about the farm have a positive response to the installation.

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