Solar project for Candlewood Mountain reappears before Siting Council
A smaller proposal to install a 20-megawatt solar farm on Candlewood Mountain underwent another round of questioning last week before the Connecticut Siting Council.
The proposal by Ameresco Inc., the company that will own and operate the solar project, had a smaller footprint compared to the original design.
The change was made based on public input at a Sept. 26 hearing at New Milford Town Hall, largely to reduce the effect on the wetlands and vernal pools. By using higher-wattage panels, the project now requires 60,000 panels, instead of the originally proposed 75,000. They will be grouped more closely together, Ameresco officials said during the hearing.
The testimony included new data to address questions posed by the public and the Siting Council during the last hearing, including fire suppression. Officials said the site would always be monitored and could be shut down with the turn of a key.
Ameresco officials said they are working with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to craft a stormwater management plan, and panels could be spaced in such as way as to reduce erosion.
Several Siting Council members questioned what would happen if a deluge hit the solar panels, much like the storm that swept through the area that week. Ameresco officials said they will factor that into the plan as well, installing panels can withstand strong winds.
Last week’s hearing also included testimony from the state Department of Agriculture. Department official Stephen Anderson said it became involved because of a new law requiring the Siting Council to balance preservation of forests and farmland against promotion of alternative energy projects. The law took effect July 1, a few days after Ameresco filed its application, and does not apply in this case.
But Kipen Kolesinskas, a department consultant, spoke about the need to preserve farmland.
He said not enough research exists to determine the viability of the soil after panels are removed. Even if the land could be used for agriculture after a solar project is complete, it would still be out of use during the project’s 20-year life. He said more than 400 people are interested in farming in Connecticut but can't get access to farmland.
Several people asked Ameresco officials whether other sites for the solar array were considered in town or the surrounding area, including the Century Brass brownfield site.
Jim Walker, of Ameresco, said Century Brass was too small, raised issues concerning wetlands and in any case was being considered as a power plant when the company started looking for sites.
The hearing will be continued at 11 a.m. Nov. 14 at the Siting Council office in New Britain. It will include testimony from the town and from Rescue Candlewood Mountain, a group started by residents who oppose the project.