CANTERBURY – Two years after a plan for a large solar farm straddling the Brooklyn-Canterbury border was rejected by the state, developers have returned with a new plan they hope will be approved.
A group from NextEra Energy Resources, the world’s biggest generator of solar and wind energy, outlined the new plan to town officials on Tuesday for the Quinebaug Solar Energy Center.
The solar farm is proposed to go on a 218-acre site east of Route 169 and north of Wauregan Road, where the single entrance will be, project manager Matt Singer said. He said 84 acres are in Canterbury.
The property contains farmland, forests and gravel pits used by the property owner, Rawson Materials. Solar panels won’t be built where the gravel pits are, Singer said.
The part in Canterbury also contains Blackwell Field, a youth soccer field used by the Canterbury Athletic Association and Putnam-based Northeast Opportunities for Wellness, Inc., which is associated with Rawson.
The 50-megawatt solar farm is expected to generate about 90,000 megawatt-hours per year, enough to power 10,000 homes, Singer said. As part of the project, Eversource Energy will build a substation nearby, where power generated by the farm will be transferred to Eversources’s existing transmission lines.
The project is expected to provide Canterbury with property tax revenue of $2 million over the 20-year contract NextEra Energy has with electricity-buying utilities and use no town services, Singer said.
NextEra Energy plans to submit the new plan to the Connecticut Siting Council this summer, Singer said. If approval is granted this time, construction would start in the fourth quarter of 2020 and finish about a year later in the fall of 2021.
Singer said that developers met with officials from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in March. “We have a good path forward, and a good working relationship with them,” he said.
The siting council rejected the previous plan because of environmental concerns.
“The silver lining of being rejected is we were able to go back and do additional studies, which is kind of fun for an environmentalist,” Katelin Nickerson, an environmental consultant, said.
The project won’t have any impact on wetlands, and a 100-foot buffer will protect them, Singer said. In addition, an especially sensitive 40-acre portion of the property will be established to protect “herptofauna” – amphibians and reptiles living there.
First Selectman Chris Lippke asked about the presence of spadefoot toads, which are considered endangered in Connecticut, and which he called “kind of a Canterbury unicorn.”
Nickerson said three of the toads were spotted on the site last summer and radio-tagged so they could be tracked. Two of them moved on, she said. “This indicates these are transient toads, likely not resident toads,” she said.
Town residents and officials raised concerns about security on the site. Last month, vandals struck Blackwell Field twice, the second time stealing a tractor stored there and joyriding on it over the field until it got stuck in the mud.
“The whole area is a no-man’s land,” Pete Rukstela said. “All types of things are going on there.”
Singer said that at present, developers plan to surround the solar panels with a 7-foot chainlink fence and locked gates. He said although no cameras are planned, any damage to the solar panels will be detected at once.
The plan also includes a provision to move Blackwell Field to a town-owned property. NextEra Energy would pay to build a new field there, Singer said.