Conway Planning Board OKs fee reduction for potential solar array on Roaring Brook Road

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 03-21-2024 4:35 PM

CONWAY — As BlueWave Solar prepares to potentially expand its list of Franklin County projects by filing site plan review and special permit applications for an agrivoltaic solar array on Roaring Brook Road, the Planning Board approved a request to recalculate the project’s filing fees.

While the Conway project is still in the early design phases, representatives from BlueWave Solar and the Weston & Sampson engineering firm met with the Planning Board this week to discuss the request. The solar company’s initial plan has a limit-of-work of approximately 32.9 acres, or 1,433,124 feet, on a parcel off of Roaring Brook Road owned by the Boyden family.

The main issue at hand was the town’s filing fees for site plan review and special permit applications, which have a base fee of $100 and $150, respectively, along with an additional $10 per 1,000 square feet of land disturbance. A BlueWave Solar representative and Robert Bukowski, the Weston & Sampson civil engineer working on the project, said they wanted the town to re-evaluate the fees for this project because it is a dual-use agrivoltaic project, which will allow the ground beneath the arrays to be used for agriculture and solar energy generation at the same time.

Instead of the 1,433,124 square feet for the total project size, the company requested the town use a disturbed area of approximately 90,386 square feet, which would encompass the gravel access road to the array, temporary gravel for construction, an equipment pad, stormwater infrastructure, electrical conduit trenching and the posts for the arrays.

“That type of fee is something that can kill a project of this size,” Bukowski said, noting that without a recalculated fee, BlueWave Solar would be looking at “tens of thousands of dollars” just to file the project. “We’re just here to discuss it and we’re looking for a little bit of guidance, so if we submit this application, we’ll have a better idea of what the fees might be.”

The revised calculation of 90,386 square feet would entail filing fees of $1,003 for the site plan review application and $1,053 for the special permit application.

As of right now, concrete details on the array are “still kind of up in the air,” but BlueWave Solar is proposing an array on the Boydens’ property that will accommodate existing farming conditions, according to Danielle Beaulieu, a director of solar development with the company. Beaulieu added that agrivoltaic systems are the “key solar installations” that BlueWave Solar likes to undertake.

“I’m hoping we can move it forward,” Beaulieu said. “It’s a great location and it keeps the farming operations the same.”

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The Planning Board signaled its support for the recalculation, which could change again if the design is shifted.

“I’m tending toward supporting their proposal,” said Planning Board member Jeff Lacy. “If more land turns out to be disturbed during the course of the project or permitting, fees could be increased commensurately.”

As BlueWave Solar works on the design for this potential project in Conway, it is also in the process of proposing a new agrivoltaic array on Pine Meadow Road in Northfield — where it also has three arrays already approved. That project is still in the early stages as well, but the company and the Northfield Planning Board held an informal information session on March 13 to introduce the project to the community. A formal public hearing has yet to be scheduled.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com.