Siting Council approves Candlewood solar project in New Milford

Photo of Katrina Koerting

NEW MILFORD — The Connecticut Siting Council has approved a controversial proposal to build a solar farm on Candlewood Mountain.

The project, to be built and managed by Ameresco Inc., would generate about 20 megawatts of power, which will feed into the New England power grid via the Rocky River substation.

The council approved the project last week in a 6-1 vote. One member recused himself and another abstained.

“We’re pretty excited,” said Bill LaMontagne, a partner with New Milford Clean Power, the site’s developer. “It’s a big step.”

He said the council was impressed by his company’s commitment to donate 100 acres to a land conservancy, and the project was scaled down to 60,000 panels from 75,000 by adjusting the wattage and angle of the panels.

“From the beginning, they were fairly impressed by our location and the project,” LaMontagne said.

The proposal, submitted in June, drew opposition from residents concerned the project would lead to the clear-cutting of about 70 acres of forest, which they said would harm the environment, destroy habitat of protected species and mar the natural beauty of the area. They worry the panels could create glare for pilots taking off and landing at the adjacent Candlelight Farms Airport.

Project supporters said it would help meet the goal of providing alternative energy and help the town’s economy by increasing tax revenue site and creating jobs to install the panels.

Rescue Candlewood Mountain, a group of residents opposed to the project, plans to appeal the decision, said its founder, Lisa Ostrove.

“The town is terribly against it,” she said.

Earlier this year, the Town Council narrowly approved a Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement, or PILOT, which set the $2.7 million amount the energy company and developers will pay during the 20 years the solar panels operate.

Mayor Pete Bass, who supported the PILOT while a member of council but later opposed the project, released a statement last Friday expressing “profound disappointment” in the Siting Council’s decision.

“The application was opposed strongly by my office, the majority of council members and many New Milford residents,” Bass said. “I applaud the efforts of both the neighbors of the property, as well as our legal team for their efforts to oppose construction of the solar facility.”

The town and Rescue Candlewood Mountain filed briefs against the project with the Siting Council before the final decision was made last week. But Ostrove said she did not believe the council took the briefs into consideration before voting.

“They certainly knew their opinions before yesterday’s meeting,” she said Friday.

Ameresco will now have to file a management and development plan with the Siting Council.

Bass said he and other town officials are considering an appeal.

An appeal can be filed in state Superior Court within 45 days of the mailing of the final decision, which brings the deadline for this case to Feb. 5.

Melanie Bachman, executive director and staff attorney for the Siting Council, said an appeal would not stay the council’s decision, meaning Ameresco could begin construction while the appeal is pending as long as the Siting Council approved the Development and Management Plan.

LaMontagne said any party has the right to do so.

“We’re prepared to defend any appeal,” LaMontagne said.

kkoerting@newstimes.com; 203-731-3345