On May 14, the Rochester Planning Board and the community learned more about the proposed solar array planned for property located on Marion Road, owned by Craig Canning and known as Rochester Farms, LLC.
An abutter sued Canning to stop his original project, and that failed effort to turn the property into a farmer’s market and agricultural operation sent Canning in another direction, renting out the property for solar generation.
On this night, coming before the Planning Board was Sarah Rosenblat for SWEB Development USA, the solar development company, and Tom Sanders of Weston & Sampson Engineers. Rosenblat took center stage for more than an hour detailing the scope of the project and responding to questions.
The project is planned with little impact to the 12.75-acre site, Rosenblat explained, as there would not be any removal of trees. The site has been farmed for decades and is currently flat and almost completely denuded due to agricultural activities. She said that the photovoltaic footprint would only cover 9 acres, although the leased area was 48 acres.
Rosenblat explained that along Marion Road there would not be any fencing, only planting for screening purposes. But what sets this solar project apart from all others in Rochester and the surrounding area was the unique placement of the solar panels and the height of the array – a mere 2.9-feet above grade with panels pitched 8 inches apart and spaced in a grid formation with minimal spacing between the grid lines.
It will also be the largest producer of solar energy in Rochester.
Chairman Arnold Johnson gave the solar team some guidance in terms of what type of waivers the applicant would need to request. He also discussed, which had the effect of informing the public, the various steps SWEB would be required to take, such as many more meetings with the Planning Board, and permitting by the Zoning Board of Appeals and Conservation Commission.
When asked the timing of the project, Rosenblat said that in addition to local permitting, SWEB was awaiting an impact study from Eversource anticipated to start in July and take up to six months to complete. They were also waiting for impact reviews by Massachusetts Historical Commission and the MassWildlife Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program. She confirmed there was evidence of the Eastern box turtle on the site.
Rosenblat said she anticipated beginning construction during the second quarter of 2020 with completion about 70 days later.
Abutter Deloris Dernier also inquired about noise, saying that her home would be directly impacted by any noise generated by the system. Rosenblat could not provide study data on the decimals emitted by the inverters and transformers but offered to provide that at a later date. She did say, however, that it was her experience that very little noise, if any, would be produced.
Rosenblat confirmed that electrical cables would be underground and that a service road off Marion Road would have a 40-foot wide paved apron transitioning to a gravel roadway. Dernier expressed her concern that the road would create stormwater flowage onto her property, which she said was already a problem. Rosenblat responded that drainage designs would include berms.
When Johnson was asked his opinion on whether anything could stop the solar development, Johnson replied, “I don’t see anything that would stop it. … This is one of the easier ones we’ve seen.”
Johnson said earlier in the discussion, “We are the only town in the Tri-Towns that has a local solar bylaw.”
The Notice of Intent hearing date was set for June 25.
In other matters, public hearings for Site Plan Review of property owned by Sophia Darras, 0 Rounseville Road, and a continued hearing for a Special Residential Development for REpurpose Properties were both continued until May 28.
The Planning Board members unanimously voted to send Zoning Bylaw amendments for Section 20.10 E (8) Medical Marijuana with the insertion of new bylaw section 22.70 titled Marijuana Regulations to the Selectmen for inclusion into the Spring Town Meeting Warrant. Town Meeting is scheduled for May 20 at 7:00 pm at Rochester Memorial School.
Rochester Planning Board
By Marilou Newell