Removal Of Trees For Solar Array Poles Wins Approval

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Public Utilities , Renewable Energy

An aerial view of the solar array off Middle Road under construction earlier this year. The need for new poles along the road to serve the facility will require the removal of 60 trees. They will be replaced by 30 new trees and 120 shrubs. The solar array at the former town landfill is in the background. SPENCER KENNARD PHOTO

CHATHAM – After getting assurance that newly planted trees and shrubs would be maintained for three years, the select board last week approved a request by Eversource to remove 60 trees along Middle Road.

The trees must be removed to clear the way for six new utility poles to connect a new solar array on the former Dubis property to the Eversource grid. They will be replaced by 30 trees and 120 shrubs, none of which will grow tall enough to interfere with overhead wires, according to an Eversource spokesman.

“We look at it as an opportunity to push this right tree, right place concept,” said Eversource Energy’s Manager of Vegetation Management Paul Sellers.

NextGrid, the company that built the solar array and now owns the former Dubis property, is anxious to get the poles in and the electricity flowing, said Daniel Serber, the company's director of development.

“We're already taking more hits that this project can handle,” he said of the 8,424 panel, 2.5 megawatt array. “Any other delays are really going to hurt our bottom line.”

Serber said the company has already planted more than 120 trees on the property to satisfy abutters and will be planting another 80 arborvitae in the spring. Because of shortages and supply chain problems, the company has had to go as far afield as New Jersey to secure stock, he said.

The select board initially had concerns about allowing the removal of 60 trees along the Middle Road right-of-way, but with Sellers' agreement that there will be a three-year maintenance plan, rather than a one-year plan as previously proposed, the board voted to approve the removal. They also asked Serber to work with the Chatham Friends of Trees on finding and planting as many oaks as possible on the property.

Dan Young of Friends of Trees said said the group's main concern was the loss of native oaks and pine trees, which support many local wildlife species, prevent runoff and sequester carbon. Most of the replacement species are not native, he said.

“Whatever is planted here should blend into the area,” Young said. Sellers said Eversource refrains from planting oak trees near utility wires because they can grow too high; many of the outages during the recent nor'easter were the result of oak trees and branches taking down wires. Eversource could plant oaks in other places around town to make up for the loss, Young suggested.

NextGrid is willing to plant oaks on the property but hasn't been able to get them, said Serber. He agreed to work with Friends of Trees to try to secure oaks to plant along the ridge above the solar array.

“Oaks grow tall and strong here, even though the wind whips around,” select board member Jeffrey Dykens said in advocating for more of the species to be included in the plantings.

Most of the trees that will be removed are “skinny” with no significant canopy, Sellers said. All of the trees proposed along Middle Road will remain below 30 feet or so, he said said, though he acknowledged they are not native species. Many of the 120 shrubs are natives, such as shadbush, winterberry, inkberry and highbush blueberry. At maturity, the shrubs will grow to six to 12 feet, he said, and will help screen the transfer station from the roadway.

All of the trees and shrubs will be planted in the spring, he said.