Solar farm site plan approved

Written by Administrator
 | Wednesday, 24 October 2012 17:32

This week, the solar farm slated to be built on the town’s capped landfill on Mayflower Street gained site plan approval from the planning board, getting it one step closer to construction.

In 2011, a special town meeting approved a solar farm on the town’s old landfill, which is a two-acre area behind the transfer station.

Thomas Melehan of American Capital Energy, Inc. of North Chelmsford, told the planning board Monday night that he had addressed some concerns raised by the board last month. They included tree removal, glare, noise, theft and an easement on an abutting property.

Initially, Melehan said his company planned to ask for tree clearing at the entrance to the landfill but decided against it. However, 77,000 square feet of trees will have to be cleared on the site to make way for the solar panels, he said. Some of the taller trees must be removed because they will block the sunlight from the panels, but the underbrush will remain and can grow as tall as ten feet, said Melehan.

As the 500 kilowatt solar array is considered a utility, it is exempt from the zoning bylaws that regulate land clearing over 30,000 square feet, said planning board chairman George Wadsworth.

Melehan said he will not be seeking an easement over an abutter’s property for more tree clearing, as he had previously considered.

“It’s not ideal, but we will live without it,” he said.

The solar panels will rest on concrete blocks that range in height from two feet to six feet, and the panels will be surrounded by a chain link fence. A gate and road will be constructed for emergency vehicle access. Melehan said he had consulted with the fire department and made sure the access road through the middle of the solar panels is designed so it can accommodate fire vehicles.

Vice chairman Brian Glennon asked Melehan about glare from the solar panels into the new police station being built adjacent to the solar project and also into the abutting Cranberry Hill neighborhood. Melehan said the panels are designed to absorb the sun’s rays not reflect them like windows. He said there would be some glare but for someone to see it, “they would have to be eight stories up.”

Glennon also asked about noise related to the project. Melehan responded that the noise was minimal as there would be an inverter that contained a small fan and a transformer that would make a humming noise.

“In terms of noise, it would be far less than a window air conditioning unit,” said Melehan. “ Also it’s off during the night.”

Planning Board member Cynthia Ladd Fiorini asked about panel theft, noting that thieves had stolen panels from solar arrays in other towns.

Melehan said that theft is “always a concern” but he pointed out that the landfill is a “controlled site” that was fenced and the solar panel project was fenced as well. He added that his company is insured if any panels are stolen.

Construction on the solar project had been slated to start this fall but that time frame has been pushed off to the spring, according to Alternative Energy Committee member Josh Cutler, who is also a planning board member. He said American Capital Energy is waiting for NSTAR to approve a connection agreement.

The Alternative Energy Committee has said previously that the solar project could provide approximately ten percent of the town’s electrical needs, saving the town thousands of dollars on its electricity bill.