The progress of Clean Energy Collective’s solar energy project on Mattapoisett Road will hinge mainly on one thing – an 8-foot high flag – and if the Rochester Planning Board can see it from where it will stand across the street, it’s lights out for the project until the developer can properly screen the solar panels.
The public hearing for Clean Energy Collective was re-opened on February 27 after the board back in December determined that a berm height increase due to some elevation discrepancies was a major change to the approved plan.
The board visited the site on Saturday, and the board’s peer review engineer, Ken Motta from Field Engineering, submitted a third report with comments on what was observed that day.
“Everything looked to be in order,” said Clean Energy Collective’s engineer Evan Watson of Prime Engineering, “minus one comment from Ken…. He asked that the fence at the front at the gate be extended.”
A few additional comments followed, including a specified 50-50 grass seed mix.
“I couldn’t make the site visit Saturday,” said Planning Board Chairman Arnie Johnson, “so I actually went out today.”
Motta accompanied him, Johnson said, observing with him what Johnson called “some interesting things on the site after all the rain.”
Johnson described a field area by the access road that was ponding water after the recent rains.
“The water can’t travel,” Johnson said. “So that access road is kind of a dam.”
Johnson suggested installing a 12-inch culvert to help with drainage, and Watson agreed.
But it still all comes down to whether or not the panels will be visible from the road.
Johnson requested that a new site line be taken from the metal building across the street.
“When you’re standing on Mattapoisett Road and you’re kind of in line with the center of that building, you can see right in through there,” said Johnson. ”We’re gonna ask them to do another site line.”
Johnson suggested the site line doesn’t necessarily have to be done before work can continue, but Johnson’s preference was to require that the screening fence be constructed before the racking system for the panels is installed. That way, the work could continue – at the developer’s risk, of course – and the board could gain the reassurance that the panels would be fully screened before the project goes too far.
Then Johnson suggested placing an 8-foot tall pole with a flag on top of where the highest point of the panels will be.
“If we can’t see the flag, carry on,” said Johnson. “But if we can see the flag, it’s back to the drawing board.”
The board will add the condition that the fence be installed before the racks. Once the fence is in, the flag test on the site line will be performed. Then work on the racks can begin, Johnson said. Once the racks are in, work will again stop so the board can check the measurements. Once the measurements are verified, only then can the panels be mounted. Work would then again stop until that installation is checked.
“If there’s a violation at any one of those points, the work’s gonna stop,” Johnson said.
Planning Board member John DiMaggio pointed out that the board has been making the installation of the fence before the racks a special condition for most of the solar projects that have gone before the board. He suggested that perhaps that requirement should be inserted into the town’s solar bylaw.
“You’re right though,” said Johnson. “If we’re gonna put it in into every decision, we should put it in the bylaw.”
Johnson stated that he thinks the board is close to the point of compiling a list of conditions for a draft decision to review and wrap up at the next meeting.
“We want to get this thing moving forward in the right direction,” Johnson said.
There were no comments from the audience that evening, and the board continued the hearing until March 13.
The next meeting of the Rochester Planning Board is scheduled for March 13 at 7:00 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.
Rochester Planning Board
By Jean Perry