John DeVillars, principal of Blue Wave LLC, along with Trevor Hardy and Robert Erb of Solar Design, and Richard Charon of Charon Engineering hosted an informal presentation for interested residents and abutters of the proposed large-scale solar farm planned for Tinkham Hill Road in Mattapoisett. Approximately 50 citizens were in attendance at the meeting, held at the Knights of Columbus Hall, eager to learn the full scope of this 12,000-panel project.
DeVillars began by giving a brief presentation of Blue Wave’s background and status as a premier developer of solar energy projects around the globe, but the attendees wanted more specific information about the project’s impact on their neighborhood.
Residents questioned who would benefit from the energy generated from the site and if the project would devalue their property and homes. DeVillars shared that residents would not directly enjoy the benefits of the solar farm by reduced electric bills. He also said that there was no statistical or historical data that would aid in understanding whether such a project in a residential area would negatively impact property values. He did say, however, that at some point in the future, Mattapoisett may decide to partake in the energy program and that it may equate to lower taxes. DeVillars then outlined the bigger benefits.
With the construction of this large solar farm project, the town’s planned smaller solar project, proposed to be situated at the closed landfill, would cost less to build. Three-phase electrical tie in to the energy grid is necessary. With the larger solar farm positioned midway between the landfill site and the Nstar interconnection located near North Street, the smaller project’s tie-in to the grid would be accomplished at the larger project’s location versus a half-mile or more to the North Street tie-in. That reduction in the distance between the smaller project with interconnection at the larger solar site would save hundreds of thousands of dollars, DeVillars said. Blue Wave is also a bidder on the landfill solar project.
Erb addressed the UL and NEMA listings of the solar panels which he described as ‘tier 1’ units with a life expectancy of 20 to 25 years. This aligns with the timing of the lease agreement between Blue Wave and Dennis Mahoney & Sons. When asked if the units were RoHS-compliant (Restriction of Use of Hazardous Substances), he was not familiar with this classification but stated that the units did not contain any known hazardous chemicals.
Charon clarified that Blue Wave, in conjunction with Dennis Mahoney & Sons, was not seeking a zoning change but a “commercial special permit” that is allowed by Massachusetts General Law 40A, Section 9, and town bylaws 7.2.1 – 220.127.116.11.5. That bylaw reads in part: “18.104.22.168 Special permits shall be granted only upon the special permit granting authority’s written determination that the proposal’s benefits to the Town will outweigh any adverse effects on the Town or the vicinity in view of the particular characteristics of the site and of the proposal in relation to the site. 22.214.171.124.1 Social, economic, or community needs which are served, 126.96.36.199.2 Preservation of scenic vistas and public access to the shoreline where applicable, 188.8.131.52.3 Traffic flow and safety with special consideration of peak summer period congestion, 184.108.40.206.4 Impact on nearby uses and whether they would be supported or damaged under the proposal, and 220.127.116.11 Adequacy of roads, drainage, and other public services in relation to the location.”
Sylvia Ouimet, a longtime resident whose property abuts the large project, wanted assurances that she would not be able to see the completed solar farm from her backyard. “We moved here 48 years ago to live in a wooded area,” she said. Hardy then displayed in a computerized rendering of what the site might look like from Ouimet’s backyard on Shady Oak Drive once plantings around the perimeter fencing were mature.
Ruth Bates of Abbey Lane questioned negative impacts on water quality. DeVillars responded that the landfill solar farm would be more difficult and require different environmental considerations given that the landfill is unlined. Charon said that the Blue Wave large solar project would have zero impact on the water quality and quantity of runoff based on current computer modeling and Conservation Commission review. He also said that swales dug around the site would ensure runoff absorption versus flooding.
Clifton Lopes, whose property is very near the project, voiced his concern about runoff, habitat disruption, and views from his property. DeVillars said he wanted to work closely with Lopes and other residents to ensure their concerns would be addressed moving forward. Lopes also learned from Hardy that one or more additional electrical poles may be installed in front of his home for the electrical feeder cables running from the farm to the grid inter-connection. Hardy said he would review the need for additional poles with Lopes and try to position them in a manner that would be less intrusive. DeVillars did say that during the construction phase, which will last approximately 90 days, disruption was inevitable.
Construction phase noise levels and dust were discussed. Blue Wave intends to have water trucks at the site to wet down exposed top soil and dirt in an effort to keep dust and air-born particulates created by deforesting and grading functions to acceptable EPA guidelines. Noise levels may be problematic to residents in the area at times he confirmed. Again, DeVillars assured all that time of day and number of days per week that active construction would take place will be discussed to try and accommodate the peaceful use of homes in the neighborhood.
Blue Wave will consider but did not commit to planting trees completely along the east-west fence on the North Street side of the site believing that it wouldn’t be that visible given the distance from the roadway. Diane Ortega of Shady Oak Drive voiced concerned that the “scenic byway” designation of North Street would be diminished if the site could be seen from the street.
Hardy reminded the group that this type of land use had no impact upon town services, possibly other than fire suppression in the event of a fire emergency. “It is benign,” he said in terms of impact on the overall community services.
Blue Wave is negotiating with Mattapoisett, Hardy said, to pay approximately $30,000 per year in property taxes and will receive 40% to 45% in Federal subsidies. DeVillars confirmed that this will be the largest solar farm project Blue Wave has undertaken in a residential setting pending the project receiving Zoning Board of Appeals approval on April 18, which it did. Readers can find a recap of that meeting elsewhere in the issue.
By Marilou Newell