Photo: Hearst Connecticut Media File
KILLINGWORTH — Efforts to build a 1.98 megawatt solar farm on 25-acre wooded area near Chatfield Hollow State Park are facing opposition as the project makes its way through Connecticut’s regulatory process.
A group calling itself Killingworth Advocates for Responsible Solar said in an 11-page letter to the Connecticut Siting Council that the solar farm’s proposed location is “environmentally objectionable.” The Siting Council is responsible for determining the appropriate location for utility infrastructure.
“The only reason for the proposed location would appear to be its proximity to three-phase power lines on Route 80, saving the applicant the cost of tying in to a distant hook up,” the letter says in part, referring to Maryland-based Standard Solar. “If this petition is approved, the question arises as to what locations could then possibly be deemed off limits for solar farms. There are right and wrong locations for solar installations; this location is the latter.”
Among the specific objections the group cites in its letter to the Siting Council last month is the potential for increased erosion and storm water run off from the site as well as the scenic impact it would have on the surrounding area.
Standard Solar submitted its application for the project in late October 2018 and Tuesday in New Britain, the Siting Council will hold its final public hearing on the application. A draft decision in the case is expected to be released on May 9 with a final decision scheduled for May 24.
Although some Killingworth residents object to the plan, the town’s First Selectwoman, Catherine Iino, said the project would provide between $80,000 and $85,000 in annual tax revenue. Right now, because the property is a forest, it is only yielding a few hundred dollars in taxes, Iino said.
Another reason Iino said she is supportive of the project is that if the Siting Council rejects the plan for the solar farm, it could end up hurting the town in the long run.
“If it doesn’t get done, it’s not guaranteed that the property will stay the same as it is now,” she said. “If there is residential development on that property, it would actually cost the town money (in terms of the need for additional expenditures on schools and public safety as a result).”
Craig Partyka, director of business development for Standard Solar, said the company acquired development rights to the property last June from BeFree Solar, which pulled out of the Connecticut market.
Partyka said one of the benefits of the project is electricity it produces will be used locally. The project calls of whatever electricity the solar panels produce to be fed into Eversource Energy’s distribution network and delivered to the utility’s Green Hill substation in Madison.
The solar farm will produce enough electricity to power 300 homes annually, according to company officials.
Partyka said the proposed solar farm has undergone significant levels of scrutiny designed to make sure the environment is protected. And the company has committed to installing a screening fence and additional trees around the orders of the property to make the solar panels less obtrusive visually.
“It’s really for when the leaves are off of the trees that the panels would be visible,” he said.
Mike Trahan, executive director of the industry trade group SolarConnecticut, said that while some of the public concerns about solar projects are legitimate, “developers who play by the rules should have access to properties.”
“It’s difficult for developers to have additional roadblocks the thrown in their way when their are long standing rules in place that govern this process,” Trahan said. “These developers are bending over backwards to address concerns because ultimately the projects that get done are the ones where the ones that ultimately get installed are the ones where there is a good relationship.. We can’t afford not to listen to what the public has to say.”
The amount of land need for solar farms has been a bone of contention for some in Connecticut’s agricultural community for much of the current decade.
Concern began when a 5-megawatt project with 23,000 panels was built on 50 acres of Somers farmland in 2013. Another in East Lyme was placed on inactive farmland and in 2016, a former Norwich dairy farm was turned into a solar site.
And the trend isn’t limited to Connecticut. By leasing some of their land to energy companies for solar farms, farmers can boost their incomes exponentially while still selling vegetables and other crops.