New Bedford Waterworks presented to Rochester Selectmen and the public a preliminary look at a proposed solar energy project near the Freetown-Rochester border.
At the Selectmen’s Monday, April 23 meeting, New Bedford Water Superintendent James Ricci – along with representatives from ConEdison Solutions and BlueWave Capital – relayed information about their pursuit of a 25 to 30-acre solar farm in a 300-acre infrastructure zone within the Quittacas Pond Conservation Area.
Ricci explained that red pines, which are dead/dying as determined by the state Forestry program, would be removed to accommodate the project. The 4.2 Megawatt would meet 100 percent of the City of New Bedford Water Department’s electricity needs, Ricci said. .
“It would provide green energy to New Bedford’s Water Department and save roughly 30 percent in water costs,” explained John Devillars of BlueWave Capital, a contractor working on the project.
Although Rochester would not receive any of the energy generated from the project, Devillars said the town would receive a payment in lieu of taxes as compensation. Specifically, as proposed now, Rochester would receive $800,000 over 20 years – or $40,000 every year – for allowing the project within its borders. Moreover, New Bedford Waterways would pay an additional $150,000 in permitting fees at the onset. New Bedford Waterworks hopes to build the project late summer and complete it in the fall – with it up and running by the end of the calendar year.
Neighbors came out to ask questions about the project, with concerns about the farm’s impact on run off, aesthetic views, potential dust and wind in an adjoining neighborhood that already is situated in a high velocity zone.
“We want to make sure the visual buffer is appealing to neighbors. There are no fixed ideas of what that has to be,” said Devillars, who said that the public is invited to meet with engineers at the New Bedford Waterworks site on Wednesday, April 25 at 7:00 pm (pre-Wanderer print deadline) to provide their input.
Selectman Naida Parker said in earlier meetings that the project wouldn’t be pile driven, although Devillars countered that it would be.
One Rochester resident said at a Dartmouth solar farm that was pile driven, a neighbor said it was “awful” and “always wanted to leave the house.”
“We want to get it right. This is not set in stone. We welcome your input,” said Ian Diamond, working for ConEdison Solutions. “We don’t want to pull wool over anyone’s eyes at all.”
The project still has to go through the Planning Board permitting process, and in the meantime the Selectmen need to put on the warrant for the upcoming Town Meeting language that would allow the town to enter into a contract with New Bedford Waterworks. Selectmen Bradford Morse pointed out that a lot of issues brought up by neighbors are appropriate to bring up at future Planning Board hearings.
In other important business at the meeting, Town Administrator Richard LaCamera met with the Finance Committee to review the Town Warrant, which he said includes no salary increases except for employees in contracts mandating them. He said staff was shuffled around – not added – to provide more staff power dedicated to EMT response.
LaCamera said that the 16-article warrant needs to be finalized by May 7 to allow time for advertising and distribution. He said the warrant includes articles on natural resources, zoning, and a new government-mandated flood district bylaw. Also, he said the town is working with Marion to enter into solar/wind power purchase agreements that could offer the town a 20 percent discount on energy costs.
“It is very attractive,” he said.
The last article would clean up language that prohibits the use of internal combustion engines on Mary’s Pond and Snow’s Pond.
In other matters, LaCamera expressed concern about the Parks Commission, which has not been meeting regularly nor been active in its duties.
“I’m very concerned about insurance coverage,” LaCamera said – noting that some groups use Rochester’s parks and the town could be “exposed [to litigation] if someone got hurt.”
The Selectmen ultimately decided to request to meet with the Commission about these issues, and set aside Tuesday, May 1 as a possible meeting date.
In other business:
• The board and five members of the Rochester Memorial School committee approved the appointment of Shirley Bourque to the Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School Committee
• Travis Lalli, who lost the race to serve as Parks Commissioner by one vote to Kenneth Ross, is seeking a recount. Selectman Parker said this would take place within the next two weeks.
• The board asked any resident interested in serving on the Planning Board or Parks Commission to step forward with a Letter of Interest by Wednesday, May 2.
The next meeting of the Rochester Board of Selectmen is scheduled for May 7.
By Laura Fedak Pedulli