New Milford residents oppose solar project for Candlewood Mountain
NEW MILFORD — Although residents support the idea of alternative energy, many expressed opposition last week to a proposal to clear cut about 70 acres of trees to install solar panels on Candlewood Mountain.
The public had a chance to share their views in a hearing before the Connecticut Siting Council, which is reviewing the proposal by Framingham, Mass.,-based Ameresco Inc. to install about 75,000 solar panels on the southern side of Candlewood Mountain, generating about 20 megawatts of power. The power generated would feed into the New England power grid through the nearby Rocky River substation.
The siting council, an appointed body that evaluates applications for energy, telecommunications and hazardous waste projects, has 180 days from the filing date to decide, making the deadline Dec. 22.
Residents filled the meeting room on the second floor of Town Hall, many wearing green stickers stating, “Rescue Candlewood Mountain, no clear cutting.”
Earlier that day, 20 protesters with signs with slogans including, “No clear-cutting for solar,” “No benefits for New Milford” and “Save our forests” stood outside of Town Hall as people entered the building for the evidentiary hearing where the siting council questioned Ameresco officials and others involved in creating the application.
Of those who spoke, about 25 opposed the project and six supported it.
“While I support solar and alternative energy strongly, it’s counterproductive to cut more than 70 acres of core forest,” Pat Welsh said.
Residents said destroying the trees would harm the wildlife that lives there, allow for stormwater runoff that could harm the water quality and create erosion, as well as take away from the natural beauty of the mountain, which has an extensive trail system. They argued the town’s conservation and development plan calls for the preservation of the mountain.
Residents said the project could hurt property values, the potential glare from the solar panels would create a risk for the pilots at the adjacent Candlelight Farms Airport and the panels could create a fire risk. Residents worried about the lack of a plan for when the lease ends and the panels need to be removed to revert the land back to forest.
The developers, New Milford Clean Power, have said they would create an 100-acre easement on another section of the mountain to offset the removal of trees, but Paul Elconin, director of land conservation for Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust, said the process can take a while and doesn’t believe it has started.
“Not enough has been done to determine that what we’ll get in conservation will offset what we’ll lose with the clear cut of 68 acres,” Elconin said.
Many speakers asked that solar panels be considered at other sites in town, such as Century Brass, which is a brownfield.
The comments supporting the project focused on the benefit of solar energy, the $2.7 million in revenue the project generates for the town over 20 years and the land is zoned for multifamily dwellings, so the solar panels were a better alternative than an apartment building.
“Our generation needs to find a way to have renewable energy,” said Jason Kushner, adding this project will help the state meet its goal of having 20 percent renewable energy.
Walter Bayer, who sits on the Town Council and opposed the tax agreement when it passed in a 5-4 vote, spoke out against the proposal again Tuesday, calling it “outrageous.”
“We will only benefit $2.7 million while Ameresco will be raking in a huge amount of money, close to $500,000 annually,” he said.
The balance of preserving green space, while encouraging alternative energy is a statewide issue, prompting the new state law passed this session that would require the siting council to balance the desire to preserve forest and farmland with the need to promote green energy projects. The Ameresco proposal, however, was filed June 28 and is exempt from the law.
Some speakers challenged the timing of the filing, calling it rushed, and asked the siting council to review this proposal with the new parameters in mind.