Town opposes New Milford solar project
Updated 12:46 pm, Thursday, December 21, 2017
The town now opposes a proposal to add solar panels that would generate 20 megawatts of energy on Candlewood Mountain.
The stance — a switch from the previous administration — was made in a brief filed last week by the town, in anticipation of a final decision on the project expected this week from the Connecticut Siting Council.
“Mayor Pete Bass, and at least eight of the nine New Milford Town Council members elected on Nov. 7,actively oppose the project, reflecting a consensus amongst town residents that the project is more harmful than beneficial,” the town’s brief states. Bass beat incumbent Mayor David Gronbach, who supported the solar project, in the municipal election.
Rescue Candlewood Mountain, a group of residents that opposes the project, and Ameresco Inc., the company that would install and operate the solar panels, also filed briefs.
Under Ameresco’s proposal, it would install about 60,000 panels and feed the power into the New England power grid through the Rocky River substation. The company has scaled back the size of its proposal since its first submission.
The town’s new brief also states that Gronbach wrote his letter in support of the project “without the support or vote of Town Council” and “no referendum or Town Meeting has been held to date to determine town electors’ position on the project.”
Gronbach’s letter said he was in favor of the project as long as it meets the requirements set out in the payment in lieu of taxes agreement Town Council signed.
The latest town opinion tells the Siting Council to reject the proposal because it doesn’t meet all of the appropriate state and federal standards for water quality.
It also states the project will “have a substantial adverse environmental effect,” and the loss of approximately 95 acres of core forest goes against a new state law that went into effect on July 1.
Under the law, the Siting Council would have to take into consideration the environmental and agricultural impacts on the loss of land in exchange for the alternative energy the project would produce.
The Siting Council ruled that law doesn’t apply to this project because it went into effect after the petition was filed on June 28.
However, it has still been cited during the hearings by residents in opposition and caused the state Department of Agriculture to testify against the project, an unusual move.
Besides environmental concerns, the town also echoed concerns made by residents and Rescue Candlewood Mountain, including the potential glare the panels could create for pilots at the adjacent Candlelight Farms Airport.
In its brief, Candlewood Solar, the subsidiary of Ameresco, contends there are no adverse environmental effects. The company altered its site plan to lessen the impact it would have on wildlife’s habitat.
Ameresco states the developer of the site will deed 100 contiguous acres of land to a local conservation trust to protect that land, which will include sections of the Blue Trail, a well-known hiking trail system that spans the state.
The project would also provide environmental benefits to the state by generating alternative energy, which could be used by residents from the New England grid, Ameresco officials noted in their brief.
Ameresco said it will use erosion controls outlined by the state when it installs the panels.
The brief states the project will generate about $2.7 million over 20 years and create local jobs.
Ameresco’s brief states the project is a good alternative to a multifamily residence, which the site is zoned for.
The town said the proposed solar project doesn’t meet the town’s zoning for that spot.