Bellingham Planning Board Discusses Proposed Solar Farm
Sep 30, 2019 06:00AM
By Pamela Johnson
Dave Albrecht, Borrego Solar’s Principal Engineer
story & photo by Amy Bartelloni, Contributing Writer
The first hearing for a proposed solar farm on Maple Street was held on August 22, in the Bellingham Municipal Center. The Planning Board heard the proposal from Borrego Solar’s Dave Albrecht, Principal Engineer, and Zachary Farkes, Project Developer.
“The applicant, Borrego Solar Systems, Inc., and owner, LMP Properties, LLC, propose to construct a 4 megawatt, ground-mounted, solar array with associated improvements at 186 Maple Street in Bellingham,” Town Planner Jim Kupfer read from the application. Plans can be viewed at the Planning and Zoning Office, or the Town Clerk’s office, in the Municipal Center during business hours.
Farkes presented a summary of benefits, including increased revenue to the town. While cautioning that he still needs to work with Franklin and Bellingham town officials, he explained that solar companies often make PILOT agreements (payment in lieu of taxes) to the towns.
“A payment in lieu of taxes means it’s not a tax, so it’s an annual flow of money that’s paid in full on the first anniversary of the operation,” he explained. That money is estimated at $75,000 a year, of which Bellingham would receive $37,000. The amount is based on acreage, but they won’t know the full split until the final plan is laid out.
The project also offers environmental benefits, and Farkes estimates offsetting 8 million kilowatt hours per year. He spoke about the local benefits of a community solar project, where local investors will have the opportunity to participate in electricity savings. The project also includes energy storage containers, which Fawkes explained.
“It solves the intermittency issues which come along when the wind’s not blowing or the sun’s not shining and you need power. Second, it facilitates the interconnection with the grid at the appropriate times. Without that battery, that project is producing just when the sun is shining, whether it’s needed or not.” He assured the Board that the noise level will be well below regulated levels.
While he told the Board that much of the site is tree-covered, he conceded that there has been some selective clearing over the years, which was a concern for Planning Board Chairman William O’Connell, Jr. “I’m a little disappointed, although I know it wasn’t you; the owner clear cut in advance of this process,” he said, bringing up the fact that Maple Street is a scenic route. “With that in mind, we want you to keep in mind the needs of the community,” he told the applicant.
These concerns include the presentation and height of the fence that will surround the area and motion-activated lights presented as part of the plan. The applicant is planning to seed the entire area after the project is finished and is willing to work with the Board as to what that seeding will be. Chairman O’Donnell suggested fencing that would blend with a country road and advised them to look at other businesses in the area.
The visual impact of the project was an issue for the entire Board, with the project being on a scenic road. “Your fencing around the property, at least on the roadside and where there are any abutters, has to be a sufficient height that no one can see,” Planning Board member Peter Pappas told the applicant.
Planning Board member Brian Salisbury agreed. “The only impact really that this project will have is visual, in my mind,” Salisbury said, “and that’s the thing I’m most concerned about, so if there’s any way to beef up the screening along Maple Street, or any areas where the facility will be seen, to preserve a natural look and mitigate as much as possible the visual impact, I’d appreciate that.”
There was discussion about construction management and construction hours, which will be addressed at a future meeting. The applicant anticipates that the construction will take place in the late spring or early summer of next year and last about five to six months (with the heavy work being in the first couple of months).
The project is located in Bellingham and Franklin, which the Board had some concerns about. “Ultimately the project is about 18 acres, with 60% in Franklin and 40% in Bellingham,” Farkes said. They’ve been working with the Bellingham and Franklin Conservation Commissions and Planning Boards, but access to the Franklin portion of the project will be through Bellingham. The proposal won’t go through without Bellingham’s approval, so the Board plans to look at their leverage going forward. “That’s worth something, and it needs to be addressed,” Chairman O’Donnell said, adding, “The 40/60 split has bothered me from the outset.”
“There’s a number of revisions the applicant is prepared to make,” Kupfer added, closing the meeting. He plans to procure a peer review for storm-water purposes, meet with Bellingham and Franklin fire chiefs, and address questions from the DPW. “There’s certainly some homework to do,” he finished. The meeting was continued to Sept. 26. Questions may be directed to Town Planner Jim Kupfer at 508-657–2893 or [email protected]