OLD LYME — More than a year after receiving preliminary approvals, the state siting council gave developers the go ahead to start installing solar panels on a 12-acre site of previously wooded land in Old Lyme.
Developers of the Cobb Road solar project on Short Hills Road in Old Lyme had already cleared about 12 acres of woodland of a 120-acre site once planned as an extension of The Oaks subdivision. The final hurdle, a site plan review, allows the developers to begin installing 7,566 panels.
The owner of the project is affiliated with Essex-based Independence Solar.
The land cleared for the project was a section of a uninterrupted 709-acre block of forest, separated from another large forest block by the right of way for the Eversource distribution lines. The project is sited in part to hook into those lines.
Because the project was designed to a capacity of 1.975 megawatts, the developers were able to avoid a requirement that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection provide a letter stating the project would not have a “material effect” on the forest. That requirement is necessary for projects generating more than 2 megawatts that would clear designated core forest land.
In a letter to the Siting Council, the state Council on Environmental Quality asked that the developers make every effort to preserve the forest habit.
“Because this specific proposal comes within only eight watts of the threshold at which the Commissioner of DEEP is required to make a determination ‘that such project will not materially affect the status of such land as core forest,’ every effort should be made to preserve as much forest and associated habitats as is possible.”
The council also noted that the 120 acre site will remain in a mostly natural state – aside from the 12.72 acres that were cleared for the project. The letter praised the developer’s plan to plant a wildflower meadow over 1.23 acres of the site, which will serve as a habitat for pollinators.
Members of the Old Lyme Open Space Committee wrote a letter to the Siting Council in November 2019, soon after the developers submitted an application, to share their concerns that the project would clear forest land close to the 300-acre McCulloch Family open space purchased by the town bought $600,000 that year and close to the Old Lyme Land Trust’s 185-acre Lay Preserve.
Committee members William Dunbar and Evan Griswold also noted that Old Lyme owns other open space along the nearby Three Mile River, and has discussed potential acquisitions near the site. Dunbar and Griswold also expressed concern about future monitoring of detention ponds required for the project.
“We were taken aback by statements that there would only be ‘occasional’ monitoring of infiltration basins and outflow, rather than any scheduled or regular site inspection. Such a response fosters a concern over project neglect in out-years.”
The approved plan calls for the site to be inspected twice a year, which would include checking for damage, erosion or accumulating sediment in the stormwater basins, and making sure the outlets aren’t blocked.
The project has a 15-year contract to sell power to Eversource, which was required by state law to buy renewable energy credits from qualifying renewable projects at a fixed price for 15 years.