One of the largest-scale* solar farms in Massachusetts is coming to Rochester in 2020, resulting in the clearing of 60 acres of forest for the 10-megawatt mega solar farm proposed by SunRaise Investments.
This solar farm proposal is only one of five solar farm projects the solar developer has slated for Rochester that will encompass hundreds of acres of contiguous lots spanning land along Braley Hill Road from Tabor Lane to Featherbed Lane and all the way across to Snipatuit Road abutting Trailside Estates, said Town Planner Steve Starrett during the Rochester Planning Board meeting on December 10.
Starrett said he and Planning Board Chairman Arnie Johnson held a technical review meeting with SunRaise Investments for the first project, the 10-megawatt solar farm, with a public informational meeting with the board to follow in early 2020.
This first SunRaise Investments solar farm will be built on 100 acres, 60 of which will be clear-cut. During a follow-up with Johnson after the meeting, Johnson said the parcels on which SunRaise plans to construct the five solar farms are all wooded.
“From the air, it’s going to transform the landscape,” said Johnson.
The solar arrays will not be visible from any public way.
Johnson said the owner of the land is Lisa Holden, and the properties “are part of the old Rounseville properties.”
“It’s a big endeavor,” said Johnson. “It’s significant.”
Rochester has seen a steady stream of solar energy field projects since 2015, but a new influx of solar development interest in Rochester is underway, said Johnson, and there is a reason for it.
“We were told that National Grid is full,” said Johnson. He explained as best he could that the areas of the state serviced by energy provider National Grid are seeing a drop-off in solar developments because National Grid has reached its capacity, “And the grid can’t take any more power,” he said.
Rochester and the surrounding areas are serviced by Eversource, which has only reached a fraction of its capacity, said Johnson.
“A vacuum was created,” Johnson explained. “Solar is coming into Rochester – we’re kind of like the last frontier.”
So far in Rochester, the solar farms that have been developed have been isolated in different areas of town. These five SunRaise Investments solar farms will be combined and concentrated in one section of town, something Johnson feels uneasy about.
“My fear is: this is all new technology in this whole area, and despite our efforts to bond and hold bonds for decommissioning and restoration – are we creating a legacy for the next 20 to 25 years? Are we leaving a bad legacy here in town?”
Although the Planning Board has no choice but to approve a solar farm plan that is in compliance with the town’s solar bylaw, Johnson still worries that the safeguards the bylaw does have in place might not be enough.
“When it comes time to decommission them, just what do you do to get rid of this stuff?” said Johnson. “Despite our best efforts with decommissioning bonds, what are we leaving behind?”
Furthermore, the concentration of the five large-scale solar farms in one area is something new to Rochester, so the impact it will have on wildlife habitat is unknown, said Johnson.
“At what point do you change the habitat?” he asked. “A concentration of hundreds of acres, eventually all together – all connected – what’s that going to do to the habitat?”
Johnson offered one glimmer of hope, though: when the solar farms are decommissioned after 20 years, the fields can reforest themselves.
“These sites will recreate themselves when the materials are taken off,” Johnson said. “It’s not like they’re asphalting all these areas.
“On one hand, [these woods] were all open land at one point,” continued Johnson. “The trees were cut for lumber for sawmills a hundred years ago or so, so it was open farmland at one point. But it still doesn’t make it any easier…”
Johnson said Rochester should expect these five SunRaise Investments solar projects to come before the board in sets of two at a time throughout 2020.
“That’ll be our whole year. They’re just gonna be coming in – boom, boom, boom…”
Also during the meeting, the board continued the public hearing for a Special Permit for a large-scale solar farm proposed by developer Pedro Rodriguez for Solar MA Project Management for land designated as 0 Walnut Plain Road/0 Old Middleboro Road.
On behalf of Rodriguez, Austin Turner addressed the board about a Conservation Commission matter that has complicated the solar developer’s application with the Planning Board.
The Conservation Commission has expressed that it would not approve the expansion of the access road into a nearby wetland, although the board maintains that a 16-foot wide road is required for public safety and emergency response access to the site.
The road is currently 14.5-15 feet in width, said Turner.
Turner suggested that perhaps the board might consider allowing for a 16-foot road with only a couple areas at 15 feet.
“I don’t see a really big deal with that,” said Planning Board member Gary Florindo. The road is straight in the selected locations, he said. “You can see a far enough distance to avoid bottlenecking.”
Planning Board member John DeMaggio wasn’t so sure, however, given that earlier in the evening the board had required another developer to stick to the 16-foot width.
“We’ll have to take that one to a conference with ConCom,” said Johnson, “because I’m with John.”
Johnson also wants to consult with the fire and police chiefs as well.
The board will invite the Conservation Commission to its January 14 meeting.
The hearing was continued until January 14.
In other matters, the board touched base again with REpurpose Properties, Inc., developers seeking a Special Permit for an age-restricted over-55 residential development beside Plumb Corner Mall on Rounseville Road.
John Churchill gave an update on the plans for “The Village at Plumb Corner,” which included the addition of a lighting plan and fill plan specifying 1,700 yards of fill needed.
The peer-review engineer submitted 14 requests that Churchill addressed, focusing mainly on the removal of some dead and diseased trees on Rounseville Road, the flagging of those trees, marking building, road, and detention basin locations ahead of the board’s site visit.
Johnson told Churchill to update the list of waiver requests to include a traffic study waiver and to have all locations properly staked out for the site visit, which was scheduled for the morning of Sunday, December 15.
Before the REpurpose Properties Special Permit hearing was reopened, the board accepted the Approval Not Required application filed by Patricia Bray, Trustees, and REpurpose Properties, Inc., which serves to provide more room for a playground for the daycare at Plumb Corner Mall.
In other business, in light of a recent fire at an approved two-lot subdivision on Dr. Hickey Lane, the board gave an informal nod for the expansion of the road to 16 feet in width with a turnaround within the approved cul-de-sac that was never built and will allow the developer to erect a street sign. The Fire Department had access issues during the fire, which resulted in these requests.
The next meeting of the Rochester Planning Board is scheduled for January 14 at 7:00 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.
*Editor’s Note: The Wanderer went to press on Tuesday night after the Planning Board meeting, leaving minimal time to perform a thorough research on the largest solar farm in Massachusetts. Preliminary research suggests that the largest solar farm to date in Massachusetts is a 7.1-megawatt array plus a 3.3-megawatt energy storage system totaling 9.8 megawatts located in Winchendon, MA.
Rochester Planning Board
By Jean Perry