NORTH STONINGTON – After striking a deal to win local support for a proposed 8.35 megawatt solar farm, on Thursday Nashville-based Silicon Ranch received the further go-ahead from state officials, reversing a prior decision. The proposed solar farm, which has been the subject of a contentious approval process dating to 2016, has highlighted tensions between solar development and conservation in Connecticut.
Eight months after rejecting an earlier proposal by a tie vote, the Connecticut Siting Council voted 6-0 on Thursday afternoon to give a green light to a scaled-back version of the project, which will only include panels south of the Norwich-New London Turnpike.
The project came out of a 2016 Department of Energy and Environmental Protection procurement for solar projects, which at the time involved an unrelated company securing a contract to build a solar array inside a gravel pit between Interstate 95 and the Norwich-New London Turnpike.
After Silicon Ranch bought the project, the company announced that on further investigation, the gravel pit contained significant environmental resources preventing redevelopment. North Stonington officials took notice when the original proposal was adapted into a clear-cut 44 acres of woodland, including additional land north of the Norwich-New London Turnpike.
The town opposed that version of the project, and the siting council rejected that proposal, with one member suggesting that Silicon Ranch was “shoehorning” the project into too small an area in an effort to maintain the solar farm’s capacity at 9.9 megawatts – and that the project was situated too close to a neighboring residential property.
The version of the project approved on Tuesday was scaled down from 9.9 megawatts to 8.35 megawatts, and from 157 total acres to 126 acres, with no land included north of the Norwich-New London Turnpike – changes that were enough the convince the North Stonington Town Council to agree in December to drop the town’s opposition to the project.
The project still involves clear-cutting 35 acres to make way for the solar panels, though that means cutting down nearly 700 fewer trees than the prior proposal called for. Silicon Ranch told the siting council it will take about a year for the project to offset its “carbon debt” from cutting down those trees – as the solar array displaces electricity from fossil fuel-burning power plants.
“As the long-term owner and operator of every project we build, we rely on local input to ensure that our facilities meet each community’s unique needs and standards,” Cara Kovach, Silicon Ranch communications manager, said in a statement. “We have been continually inspired, throughout this process, by the sense of pride and commitment to conservation that the citizens of North Stonington place in their community’s valued history. And we are honored to have worked together with these same community members to ensure this facility builds on North Stonington’s cherished legacy.”