Selectman David Mountain noted that while it might be difficult under current law to deny the permit, his board has the authority to shape the project in ways that will minimize its impact on the community.
SageStone’s Rich Kleiman opened the hearing by making the case for why his team views the project as a plus for the town, saying the solar farm would provide:
Over $600,000 in new property taxes over the life of the project
Approximately $36,000 in building and electrical permitting fees to the town
An educational outreach program for Newbury schools
Income to allow a local family farm to remain in agricultural use.
SageStone’s modified plan moved the panels further back from Scotland Road and from the abutting Colby Farm property than was originally planned. And it’s added a hedgerow of evergreen shrub to provide ample vegetative screening.
In response to concerns raised at the hearing on March 12, Kleiman contended safety concerns are unwarranted because the miniscule amount of hazardous material used in the panels is encapsulated to prevent exposure in the event of broken glass or other damage. Manufactured by Trina Solar, the panels are made of glass, aluminum, ethylene vinyl acetate encapsulated, polyvinyl fluoride substrate, and poly crystalline silicon.
Last year Trina Solar was ranked no. 1 in sustainability by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition in a scorecard survey in which 51.1% of the industry market share participated. (To view survey results visit www.solarscorecard.com.)
Donna Pikul, who has farmed the site for decades, emphasized that 78% of her property would still be available for scenic viewing and bird watching. Both the state’s endangered species watchdogs and the conservation commission have OK’d the project. Solar power is the “energy of the future” and SageStone is a “reputable company,” Pikul said. The farmer objected to opponents’ assertions that her solar farm would impact their property values. “I don’t think a solar array is going to do anything worse than a pig farm,” Pikul said, referring to activity on the neighboring Colby Farm.