CHATHAM – An agreement between neighbors and a California-based renewable energy company on a buffer area has cleared the way for approval of a solar power array off Middle Road.
The zoning board of appeals on Feb 27 approved a special permit for NextGrid's solar facility on the 15-acre sandpit owned by J.W. Dubis and Sons. The facility could be generating power by summer.
Property owners along West Pond Road, Pond Road, Goose Pond Road and Middle Road had raised questions about noise from the inverter used in the 8,280 solar panel array as well as what they saw as an inadequate vegetated buffer between the facility and abutting homes. Those concerns have been addressed, said NextGrid attorney William Litchfield, and neighbors now support the project.
“We are completely in favor of the project,” concurred Brewster attorney Christopher Senie, representative of several neighbors.
West Pond Road residents Steve Jesus and Pattie Brockwell said while the process was “lengthy, painful [and] expensive,” they were grateful to NextGrid for agreeing to a compromise plan.
“The compromise gives NextGrid the size array they want while minimizing the impact to our neighborhood, our peace and quiet and by extensive our property values,” they wrote in an email. They added that they've supported the project and its aims, but wanted to ensure that it did not impact their quality of life.
Changes to the plan include moving the inverter and battery to the center of the property and the retention of an “extensive” natural buffer along the eastern boundary, Litchfield said. The buffer will be supplemented by a six-foot hedge planted on a four-foot berm along 300 feet of the border with West Pond Road, which will provide visual protection for neighbors. Additional plantings will be added at the request of other neighbors. The low-glare panels will face south, away from any homes in the neighborhood.
Litchfield said the inverter is barely audible 50 to 150 feet away, and by placing it more than 300 feet from the nearest neighbor, “there will be no noise at all.” The solar panels will be enclosed within a fence, which will be at least 100 feet away from the nearest homes, he said.
The 3.3 megawatts of power that the facility will generate will be sold to Eversource, and the town and rate payers will be offered discounted electricity through the Massachusetts Smart Program Community Solar Benefit, Litchfield said.
“Abutters and for that matter, as far as I know, anyone in the community is eligible to join that program,” Litchfield said. “Your electricity isn't going to be free, but there is a slight reduction in kilowatt hours.” The town already generates some 70 percent of its electricity usage via solar arrays at the nearby capped landfill and on several town buildings.
The new use will provide an “important if small environmental benefit” and is “inherently quiet and nonintrusive,” especially compared to the gravel and sand pit the property has hosted for the past 70 or so years, Litchfield said.
It should take about two months to complete the work, he said, requesting zoning board approval of longer-than-usual construction hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. “Frankly there is a time issue here,” Litchfield said.
“In a perfect world we might be done by Memorial Day, but we can't guarantee it,” he said.
Litchfield noted that the town recently received state designation as a Green Community; one of the criteria is easing permitting for renewable energy projects. This project has been in the permit pipeline for months.
“After five or six sessions with the planning board, ease may be newly defined,” he commented.
The zoning board vote granting the permit was unanimous.
“I think we should congratulate the neighbors, because when something like this comes in your backyard, it really pulls at your heartstrings as to what you have and what it means,” said board member David Nixon.