Resident group opposes solar proposal for Candlewood Mountain
Published 12:00 am, Thursday, September 7, 2017
NEW MILFORD — Dozens of residents who believe that trees shouldn’t be cut down to make way for alternative energy sources have created a group to oppose a solar project planned on Candlewood Mountain.
Rescue Candlewood Mountain was created in July, shortly after Massachusetts-based Ameresco filed the petition with the state Siting Council to install about 75,000 solar panels on the southside of the mountain, requiring the removal of about 70 acres of trees. The power generated would tie into the New England power grid via the nearby Rocky River substation.
Lisa Ostrove, the local group’s founder, said it was established out of frustration and to give residents a chance to organize against the project.
“We love renewable energy,” Ostrove said. “We are all for solar, but... you have to put it in the right place. You can’t destroy your wildlife corridors and core forest to do it.”
The group will host its first large event at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at St. John’s Episcopal Church on the Green in preparation for the state Siting Council’s public hearing on the proposal, which will be held Sept. 26. Ostrove hopes to have 150 to 200 people there.
Bill LaMontagne, a partner with New Milford Clean Power, the site’s developer, said the spot on Candlewood Mountain is ideal because of its proximity to the power grid and because it would be hidden. He acknowledged trees would have to be removed, but said that spot was an open field 50 to 60 years ago.
He said the company is also offsetting the removal by donating 100 acres on the mountain to a land trust to preserve. This land would include a section of the Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail, a popular trail system that has about 825 miles of trails throughout the state.
“We’re going to do that to mitigate and compensate the removal of trees,” LaMontagne said.
Opponents of the project are encouraging the town and Siting Council to consider other locations that wouldn’t require the removal of so many trees, such as the former Century Brass site, rooftops, or on unused farm land, which could allow for farmers to generate some extra income too.
“There’s no reason to take down the trees when there’s a lot of ugly places to put it,” Ostrove said.
In addition to hurting the scenic nature of the mountain, opponents argue the removal of trees could lead to erosion and washing soil into nearby Candlewood Lake.
Ostrove added that the current site also poses a risk to pilots who perform aerial acrobatics at the adjacent Candlelight Farms airport and would be subject to potential glare.
Ostrove said testimony with the Siting Council also shows the project is only a phase one and it is actually bigger than initially proposed, requiring the removal of 88 acres of trees now.
But LaMontagne said no plans have been created to expand the project or develop the rest of the site and the size is the same. He said the project was good for the town and would increase the taxes generated there by about 700 percent.
He added the solar panels would be spaced far enough for the rain to fall and be absorbed by the wild field grass planted there.
The idea for Rescue Candlewood Mountain started with phone calls early this year, around the time Town Council approved a payment in lieu of taxes agreement for the project in a 5-4 vote, with Mayor David Gronbach breaking the tie. Under the agreement, the company would pay $2.7 million in taxes to the town spread out over 20 years.
Some residents and business owners argue the agreement is unfair and the early payments are too small.
Members of the state Siting Council will review the solar panel proposal on Sept. 26. The hearing begins with a site visit at 1:30 p.m., followed by an evidentiary session in Town Hall at 3 p.m.
The hearing concludes with a public comment session at 6:30 p.m. in Town Hall. The public also has 30 days after the evidentiary hearing to submit testimony. The public is able to attend any of the portions of the hearing on Sept. 26, but can only speak during the public comment part.
“This thing is not a done deal,” Ostrove said. “People have a right to come speak before the Siting Council.”