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CARVER

Restrictions sought on solar plants

By Robert Knox
Globe Correspondent / December 1, 2011
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As a contentious hearing on a plan to build a solar energy project on cranberry bog land in a residential neighborhood goes forward, some Carver residents are urging the town to adopt a bylaw that would restrict solar projects to certain parts of town.

Leland Way resident Eric Tobolski, the prime mover of a petition campaign to put a solar power development bylaw before Town Meeting, says that a new bylaw would not affect the project already under review in his own neighborhood. “But it would prevent it from happening again,’’ he said.

Tobolski and other residents are opposing a plan by Rocky Meadow Development Corp. of Seekonk to build a solar panel array on cranberry land the company owns off Purchase Street in North Carver near the Middleborough line. In the face of neighborhood opposition, the company has already scaled back its original intentions to build a 7-acre solar farm and produce 3.1 megawatts of electricity.

Under the original plan, the Purchase Street Solar Array Project consisted of a western field of solar panels to be built in an excavated cranberry bog off Leland Way and an eastern field in a wooded area off Great Meadow Road. Responding to complaints by residents that they were told they would have a cranberry bog for a neighbor, not a solar energy project, the property owner abandoned the western field. Instead, the company will grow cranberries in the recently excavated bog.

But the company is going forward with the 4.95-acre eastern section, which it plans to buffer from neighbors with a fence and a screen of trees. The proposal has passed muster with consultant Glen Berkowitz, who called it “a well-designed and suitably sited project.’’

The project “would generate power from the sun, by converting sunlight to electricity with no moving parts, zero use of water, and zero air emissions,’’ Berkowitz stated in his report to the town’s Planning Board. “This renewable energy project would contribute to national and state goals of sustainability, energy independence, and air quality improvement.’’

Great Meadow Road residents had a different view, however, at a board hearing on Nov. 15.

“It was very contentious,’’ said Jack Hunter, Carver’s planning director. Some of the project’s neighbors, Hunter said, “still don’t want anything with solar panels.’’

The reason for their opposition, Tobolski said, is that the project is an industrial use that “just doesn’t belong in a residential area. . . . It is a power plant. They want to drop that right into a residential neighborhood.’’

Following his lead, neighbors gathered 177 signatures on a petition to call a Special Town Meeting to consider a bylaw to restrict solar developments to industrial zones. The drive fell short of the 200 certified signers needed to call a meeting, but selectmen agreed to work with Tobolski to place a solar development bylaw on the agenda of the Town Meeting they plan to call this winter.

Meanwhile, the Planning Board will have a third hearing on the Purchase Street project on Dec. 6 at 8 p.m.

Attorney Richard Serkey, who represents the property owner, said neighbors’ concerns about the project are exaggerated.

“It’s hyperbole to call it a power plant,’’ Serkey said last week. “Go to the Cape Cod Canal if you want to see a power plant. . . . To characterize it as an industrial development is to use the word in a pejorative sense.’’

Serkey pointed to Berkowitz’s review, which sought to address each concern voiced by neighbors. Although neighbors worried that exposure to the project’s electromagnetic field would increase cancer risks, Berkowitz analyzed research into the issue and concluded that the project’s electromagnetic field “will likely not adversely affect the health and safety of either the residents abutting the facility’’ or nearby neighbors with implanted medical devices such as pacemakers.

His report also concluded that the project will have no noise impact on abutters, that its transmitters can be built without hazardous materials, and that the solar field will not produce a “heat island’’ harming the environment. Finally, research into property values “found little evidence of home devaluation,’’ the report stated.

Berkowitz last week praised the Carver hearings for “some of the most thorough discussions of photovoltaic energy that have been held by any Planning Board in the state.’’

Although Serkey contends that a solar farm is an appropriate use for Rocky Meadow Development Corp.’s property, he agrees with Tobolski that the town has the right to create a bylaw regulating solar power projects by restricting them to certain parts of town.

Where solar energy projects should, or should not, be located is likely to remain an issue for Carver, a town whose cranberry growers have begun to look at solar installations as a promising land use in an era of low prices for cranberries.

Plans for a large solar energy project on cranberry land on West Street were recently filed by Entero Energy LLC. The Planning Board has scheduled a public hearing on its review of the proposal, also on Dec. 6, beginning at 7:30 p.m.

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.

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