SOUTHINGTON — Planning and Zoning Commission members received non-specific assurances last week from the developers behind a proposed 34-acre solar farm to assuage their concerns about the potential loss of farmland.
Leaders with Hartford-based solar energy developer Verogy presented the proposal to the Planning and Zoning Commission on May 19. Verogy plans to submit an application to the Connecticut Siting Council next month.
Hearings on the project may be scheduled late in the summer, with a possible decision from the Connecticut Siting Council in the fall.
During the May 19 presentation, Keith Ainsworth, a New Haven attorney advising the town on the plan, asked if Verogy is committed to continuing agriculture at the East Street field.
Bryan Fitzgerald, Verogy's director of development, responded that the company is still “working on that possibility.”
“Currently we are working to make sure we can secure the commitment from a local farmer to make that happen,” Fitzgerald said. “We do not have any commitment to date.”
Fitzgerald and other Verogy leaders repeatedly said they are not trying to eliminate farming.
PZC member Peter Santago asked what kind of tax revenue the town could expect and how the project might impact residents' utility rates.
Verogy leaders estimated the town may see roughly $30,000 in annual tax receipts and did not offer any estimates on potential rate reductions.
For Santago, the low tax return and undetermined rate reduction did not justify the potential loss of farmland. The town, in its most recent Plan of Conservation and Development, outlines a commitment to preserving current agricultural land and open space.
“Farming is going to be impacted. Open space is going to be impacted,” Santago said. “If they had come to us and said you're going to be getting a couple million in tax revenue, then there is some return there. But 30 grand is a totally different discussion.”
Ainsworth, when reached Tuesday, said although the town boards and municipal leaders do not have a say in whether the project is approved, they can still participate in the hearing process for the application with the Siting Council.
PZC Chair Robert Hammersley was dissatisfied with how the site was selected. The criteria included topography and proximity to existing electrical infrastructure.
“I find it hard to believe they couldn't find a location that wouldn't sacrifice farmland,” Hammersley said. “To allow that project on that piece of property would be detrimental…There's a cost to depleting farmland. That stuff doesn't come back.”