×

Orange Planning Board gives ‘OK’ to East Road solar array 

  • FILE PHOTO



For The Greenfield Recorder
Friday, November 02, 2018

ORANGE — The Planning Board has unanimously approved a special permit application by Colorado-based Clean Energy Collective after a third continued hearing for public input on the project.

Wetlands border the southern and eastern sides of the proposed array at 52 East Road, with an isolated patch of wetland planned for the direct center of the array. Project manager Douglas Carton said the company has taken the landscape into careful consideration.

“It’s Massachusetts,”  Carton said. “It’s very, very swampy. It’s hard to find areas that aren’t wetland, or don’t include wetland in Massachusetts.”

According to Carton, the less than 11,000-module, 4,082 kilowatt (DC) array plans to operate for about 25 years before the company is obligated to remove it. A relatively small array, Carton said the 29.7 acre parcel would have about 10 acres of solar field with a “low specific production.”

After lengthy discussions specifying the conditions for the construction, maintenance and operation of the array, the Planning Board approved the special permit and site plan to build in a rural residential zoned district. Now, the developers can proceed with the project after the final written decision is submitted to the Town Clerk and the conclusion of the 20-day appeals period. They must also follow the revised storm water pollution prevention conditions approved by the Conservation Commission at an Oct 25 meeting and final public hearing.

“They are going to give a favorable order of conditions,” Flis told the Planning Board. “”They are going to approve the project.”

As part of the permit application, the Clean Energy Collective submitted and revised a stormwater pollution prevention plan, now approved by both the Planning Board.

Orange Fire Chief James Young submitted a letter to the Planning Board stating he had no opposition to the plans as presented. 

Still, Prescott Lane resident and abutter Christine Noyes left the meeting frustrated.

“We’re putting these things all over town,” said Noyes. “It’s got to stop at some point. We’re losing all our land for something with not much gain.”

The Planning Board questioned whether the project would have any direct benefit to residents’ electric bills. Greg Carey, director of permitting and real estate for the Clean Energy Collective, explained that residents have the option to buy subscriptions to a “net metering” program, which will apply credits to their utility bill, thus lowering the cost.

“It sounds like semantics to me,” Planning Board chair Mercedes Clingerman said of the company’s use of the word “community-owned” because Orange does not directly own the project.

The company is working through the paperwork necessary to connect their array to the Wendell Depot Substation, from where it will be distributed by National Grid, Carton said. He estimates the project could power between 600 to 800 homes.

“That to me is good development,” Carton said.

The three abutters in attendance voiced their reservations about the project, among them was Select Board member James Cornwell. He emphasized the fact that elsewhere in town, he believes new solar arrays are believed to be the cause of increased flooding.

To address runoff concerns temporary drainage basins will be dug during construction to mitigate runoff, said Weston Flis, an engineer with Whitman & Bingham Associates hired by the Clean Energy Collective.

In a rural-zoned district near the Tractor Supply store, the site was chosen by a “third-party developer” working with the Clean Energy Collective, Carton said. The Colorado-based company has built 40 to 50 solar arrays across the state working from their Massachusetts headquarters in Worcester. They also own the solar array next to Walmart on New Athol Road.

“We put a lot of effort into developing projects that don’t disturb the land more than they need to,” Carton said.  “I see solar as a net benefit.”

As a neighbor to the proposed project, Planning Board member Casey Bashaw was excluded from participating in the hearing portion of the meeting, but was allowed to vote.

To address concerns shared about the unsightly array, contractors will now plant about two dozen evergreen trees to shield some Prescott Lane resident’s backyards from the project, leave a vegetated buffer and install a seven-foot wooden fence along East Road. 

“That area was already logged off a while back, you can see right through,” Noyes said.