SOUTHINGTON — The deadline for the state Siting Council to reach a decision on a proposed 37-acre solar panel array on farmland along East Street has been delayed until April 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Verogy, a solar panel installation company based in Hartford, is seeking to install the panels at 1012 East St., across the street from the YMCA’s Camp Sloper. The 103-acre parcel is owned by the Catholic Cemeteries Association, which has leased the land to Karabin Farms for growing hay and other crops.
The Siting Council has received two 90-day extensions on its deadline to make a decision, pushing it to April 25. Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order 7DDD allowed state agencies to delay regulatory time requirements and hearings to accommodate disruptions caused by the pandemic. The Siting Council oversees the placement of major electricity infrastructure to balance the state’s energy needs with environmental considerations, according to the council’s website.
Bryan Fitzgerald, Verogy's director of development, hopes that the council will reach a decision earlier than April.
To offset the loss of agricultural land, Verogy worked with the Department of Agriculture to form a plan to have sheep graze between the panels. Approximately 21 acres are currently being used as farmland, according to documents the company filed with the Siting Council.
“It’s been our goal to try to maintain those two things, which is to produce reusable energy and preserve agriculture,” Fitzgerald said.
The flat land, lack of tree coverage and nearby electrical infrastructure make the site ideal for solar panels, said William Herchel, Verogy’s chief executive officer.
The 4.7-megawatt project could generate enough electricity "to power 1,126 average homes for one year,” Verogy said in its petition to the Siting Council, filed in July.
In addition to approval from the Siting Council, the project also requires a storm water permit from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and permits from the municipal building department.
Karabin Farms has objected to the project and filed to be an intervener to Verogy’s petition to the Siting Council, arguing the loss of farmland in town outweighs the value of the renewable energy the project would generate. They leased the entire parcel for farming for years before the solar project was proposed and that lease has since been curtailed to 60 acres, attorney Paul Zagorski said.
Zagorski also disputed Verogy’s estimates of how much work would be required to restore the land to farmland after the 25 year lifespan of the solar panels. He said the company’s filings with the Siting Council say that restoration work would be needed on 3.7 acres of the project, however he believes the impact would be wider.
“They’re saying the remainder … is not being disturbed even though they’re putting this massive solar panel complex,” he said.
The state Council on Environmental Quality also submitted a letter to the Siting Council which questioned if the land could be returned to agricultural use in the future. The letter was written by the council’s executive director, Peter Hearn, and was submitted on Aug. 28.
“For a solar energy installation to have no impact on the status of prime farmland soils on the site, decommissioning and restoration would have to be successful at the end of the anticipated twenty-five year life of the solar panels,” Hearn wrote. But, he added, whether that land can be restored as farmland “is an unproven promise.”
Patrick McGloin, spokesman for Verogy, acknowledged the Council on Environmental Quality's comments in an email to the Record-Journal. McGloin wrote Verogy “has worked extensively with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture to design a project that will generate renewable, zero carbon energy while preserving as much farmland as possible. We’re hopeful that all the agencies responsible for evaluating projects like ours agree that Southington Solar One will deliver much-needed clean energy to Connecticut’s residents.”