SOUTHINGTON — The local family that farms an East Street parcel eyed by a renewable energy developer for a possible solar panel array will now have a seat at the table while the proposal is discussed.
The Connecticut Siting Council, which has approval authority over such proposals, last week granted Michael and Diane Karabin’s request for intervenor status as it takes up the application for Southington Solar One, as the project has been called.
The Karabins have farmed the 103-acre plot at 1012 East St., which is owned by the Catholic Cemeteries Association, for years. Verogy LLC, a Hartford-based solar developer has proposed developing a 4.7 megawatt solar farm across a portion of the site, while maintaining some agricultural use of the remaining land by allowing sheep grazing and a pollinator habitat on the undeveloped portions.
Verogy has claimed the potential electrical output of the proposal would provide enough electricity to power more than 1,100 homes.
Paul Zagorsky, an attorney representing the Karabins, said the newly granted intervenor status enables his clients to directly argue during proceedings that the proposal would adversely affect the environment and agriculture.
At least one state agency, the Council on Environmental Quality, has questioned whether farmland, once it has been developed into a solar farm, can be restored as farmland after solar arrays have been decommissioned.
Zagorsky and others also have questioned whether sheep grazing is an adequate substitute use of fertile farmland.
“Merely throwing sheep on a solar proposal doesn’t mean you’re preserving farmland,” Zagorsky said.
The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has submitted comments regarding the proposal. In those comments, Frederick L. Riese, a senior environmental analyst for DEEP, wrote that proposals such as Southington Solar One would help the state achieve its “vision for a more affordable, cleaner, and more reliable energy future for the state of Connecticut.” Riese noted the state’s goals of reducing carbon emissions by 80% of 2001 levels by the year 2050.
However, Riese had questions about the proposal for sheeping grazing to maintain the farmland. He noted a Partridge Drive resident had described “an active presence of coyotes” in the area.
“This would seem to have a potential bearing on the proposed use of sheep for vegetative management within the fence project areas,” Riese wrote, commenting on how the developers propose to protect the proposed sheep. “... As coyotes are resourceful and are good at digging under fences, a secondary fence more rigid and substantial than the chain link fence may be needed to prevent coyote predation in the three fenced enclosures of the solar facility.”
According to the Connecticut’s Siting Council’s schedule related to the proposal, the participants will have until early October to submit interrogatories regarding the proposal. Responses will be due by mid-October. Meanwhile, the project’s deadline for action is Dec. 26. A deadline for a Siting Council decision will be April 25, 2021.