New Milford Zoning Commission opposes Candlewood Mountain solar plan

Photo of Katrina Koerting

NEW MILFORD — The Zoning Commission has decided to oppose a proposal to install a 20-megawatt solar array on Candlewood Mountain, after hearing comments from more than a dozen residents who spoke against the project at Tuesday’s meeting.

The commission will send a letter opposing the project to the Connecticut Siting Council, which is considering a proposal from Candlewood Solar, a subsidiary of the Framingham, Mass.-based energy company Ameresco.

Under the proposal, Candlewood Solar would install 75,000 panels on the south side of Candlewood Mountain near the airport. The energy generated would feed into the New England power grid via the nearby Rocky River power station.

The Zoning Commission has no jurisdiction over the project; it can only advise the Siting Council, Zoning Commission Chairman Bill Taylor said.

The state Siting Council — an appointed body that evaluates applications for energy, telecommunications and hazardous waste projects — is reviewing the proposal, which was filed June 28. The council has 180 days from the filing date to decide. The Siting Council will hold a public hearing in town on Sept. 26.

Taylor suggested the commission post information about the plan and commenting procedures on the town website before the Siting Council hearing so residents can provide input in the state process.

Residents and the Zoning Commission said they were concerned about removing 68 acres of trees for the panels and the potential glare the panels could create for the pilots at the adjacent airport.

“You have the largest town in the state and the only place you can find for this project is a mountaintop with trees,” said Michael Miltonberg, a former New Milford resident who lives in Kent. “This is a stupid idea.”

James Kick, who used to fly out of Candlelight Farms Airport and insures many pilots who do, worried the panels would interfere with small planes, which don’t have as many instruments as the large commercial planes that fly out of other airports where similar solar panels are located.

“One wreck is too many,” he said.

Commissioners worried that the pilots at New Milford’s airport are subject to more risk from than those at larger airports because they use their planes for acrobatics and so approach the panels from different angles, instead of just taking off and landing. They also said the smaller planes don’t have as much equipment as the larger planes to deal with potential glare.

Residents argued that the panels would spoil views of the mountain, which could affect their property values. Others were concerned about the effect the panels could have on wildlife, the possibility that heavy trucks used in construction could damage the road and the possible erosion from stormwater runoff.

Joel Lindsay, the lead developer from Ameresco, said the panels are equivalent to the carbon dioxide capture of 22,000 acres of trees and helps reduce the use of fossil fuels.

“We feel the benefits outweigh some of the negative impacts any development project would face,” he said.

He said the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is thoroughly reviewing the plan for the environmental impacts, stormwater runoff and potential erosion. He added that the panels are spaced far enough apart so that rain and snow are dispersed and erosion is less of an issues

He said the Federal Aviation Administration is reviewing the glare potential, but doesn’t expect a problem because the panels don’t reflect light.

Lindsay said the project is visible from the airport and Candlelight Farms, though not from Candlewood Lake or Candlewood Mountain Road.

“The site is able to accommodate the size of the project, while still being relatively unobtrusive,” he said.

Ameresco highlights benefits the project would offer, including helping the area decrease its dependence on fossil fuels, meeting its energy needs from an alternative source and creating jobs.

As part of a payment in lieu of taxes agreement with the town, Ameresco would pay $2.7 million over 20 years. This agreement has been criticized by business owners, who have said it was unfair to give this company such a big break at the start of the project.

Some residents spoke in favor of the plan.

“I’m a forester, I don’t like to see trees cut, but in this case, I think the tradeoff is worth it,” said Amanda Lock, who lives on Candlewood Mountain Road.