Saturday, March 3, 2012

Solar Array Draws Protest in Lunenburg

A group of residents opposed to a proposed solar energy project off West and Pleasant streets on land owned by the Twin City Baptist church plan to demonstrate after church services tomorrow. The church plans to lease 20 acres in the back of its property on Electric Avenue (Route 13) to Maryland-based EPG Solar, for an 11,000 solar panel array that would generate enough power for 400 homes.

Nina Arnold, an opponent who has lived in the neighborhood for 27 years, said residents, especially abutters, fear loss of property values on their homes, glare from panels, loss of privacy to security cameras that could be placed near backyards, and the sacrificing of a picturesque meadow popular with hikers and nature buffs.

“This is an industrial-scale project that is smack in the middle of a small, mostly blue collar neighborhood,” she said. “There will be no market for houses that abut this project. They will have zero value.”

Ms. Arnold said opponents claim a possible link from solar emissions to childhood leukemia.

They also question if the project would impact a swampy area across the street that could be wetlands.

In a letter to the Rev. A. Erven Burke, pastor of Twin City Baptist, Ms. Arnold asks that the project be abandoned. She said neighborhood families are “in a state of shock and panic.”

“It is in your power to stop the destruction of the neighborhood,” Ms. Arnold said in the letter to Rev. Burke. “You are a man of Jesus. What would he do in your place?”

A telephone call to Rev. Burke was not returned yesterday.

Marion M. Benson, the town’s planning director, said the project is still under review, and would have to get approval from various town boards, including the Conservation Commission, which governs wetlands.

But she cited a state law that says planning boards cannot use discretionary power to deny solar projects on private property and are obligated to give approval if permit requirements are met. She said the board can impose certain requirements, such as a buffer zone.

Ms. Benson said an engineer and a wetlands specialist are reviewing the project.

State Rep. Stephen L. DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, who, if re-elected in November will represent the neighborhood under state re-districting, met with a group of residents yesterday.

While crediting current state Rep. Jen Benson, D-Lunenburg, and Town Manager Kerry A. Speidel with much of the research on the project, he agreed residents are rightly concerned about the size of the solar farm.

“I told them I don’t think it’s a fait accompli, and I urged them to attend the conservation commission hearings at their next meeting in March,” Mr. DiNatale said.

A new proposed town bylaw that may be acted on at the annual town meeting in the spring would give town officials more control over future solar projects by creating an overlay district.

“On one hand, we are trying to promote green energy, but there is a difference between a few panels on a private home and a very large industrial project like this,” Mr. DiNatale said.

Another large solar project is in the works for Chase Road.

Last year, a solar farm consisting of 1,050 panels was constructed at Carlson Orchards in Harvard.

Several other solar projects are proposed in Central Massachusetts.

In West Brookfield, 6,020 panels would be set up on 18 acres of private land; and in Northbridge, 8,430 panels would be set up on the Grafton line.

In Winchendon, three renewable energy companies want to build three solar facilities in town.


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