Concerns raised over solar farm proposal in Marion

Board will review the legality and feasibility of the proposal in coming weeks
Jun 5, 2018

A Worcester-based company's plans to build a solar farm in Marion was met with concerns from members of the Planning Board on Monday.

Brendan Gove and Herald Reader of Zero Point Development, Inc. presented a proposal for construction of a 22-acre solar farm at 78 Wareham Road. The property is currently undeveloped woodlands extending off the south side of Route 6 along the Weweantic River, across from Gilda's Stone Rooster.

Gove estimated the proposed solar farm would bring in about a million dollars in revenue for the town over 20 years.

Under the current proposal, the farm would contain about 2,000 solar panels that would cover 15 acres of the property.

According to Reader, the energy harvested by the farm would be capable of offsetting about 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, or the equivalent of nearly 1,000 cars.

While newly-appointed Chair Will Saltonstall said that he’s “a huge proponent of solar and green energy,” he and other board members expressed several concerns about the proposal. Chief among them was a town bylaw which prohibits the clearing of “large scale” forested areas for the construction of solar panels.

Gove said that he was familiar with the bylaw, but argued that the term “large scale” is ambiguous and might not apply in this case.

“From our perspective, we consider this a small project,” Gove said, drawing laughter from several board members. “The industry does 300-acre solar farms … so we feel this project would not violate your bylaw.”

“It’s a small town, that’s a big project,” board member Andrew Daniel told him.

Vice Chair Steve Kokkins said that the bylaw would likely have to be changed if the project were to go forward.

Other issues raised by board members included visibility and alternative uses of the property.

“I can speak with clarity and for everyone in this town when I say we never want to see this,” board member Chris Collings said. “It really can’t be visible, even a little bit.”

Gove and Reader assured the board that a buffer zone of trees and vegetation would prevent the farm from being seen by the public.

Board members noted that they had received prior proposals from developers seeking to build homes on the property.

Daniel suggested that if the property were cleared of trees, houses built there could have a “million-dollar view” of the ocean, and that the town could bring in more revenue from property taxes.

The current owner of the property, Henry Dejesus, advocated for the construction of the solar farm and pointed out that the construction of new residential buildings could bring additional costs to the town’s schools, water systems and landfills.

“I live by the code of the best deal is the one that works for everybody,” Dejesus said. “The other offer was very similar financially … taking everything in about what that would cost the town and the environment, I think this is a much better deal.”

Ultimately, the Planning Board decided that it will review the legality and feasibility of the proposal over the next two weeks and will address it during its June 18 meeting.