Questions about solar farm plan

MILFORD – It seems like a no-brainer – clean energy and much needed revenue from property that has been off the tax rolls since the town bought it 20 years ago.

But a plan to lease 120 acres of industrial-commercial land to a solar energy firm did not get a warm welcome at the recent budget hearing.

A multi-year lease proposal from Granite Apollo, of Manchester, is on the town warrant that will be debated at the town Deliberative Session on Saturday, Feb. 2.

The firm wants to use 120 woodland acres of what’s known as the Brox property, on both sides of Route 101, off Perry Road, covering about 70 percent with solar panels for at least 25 years.

At 20 megawatts, it would be the state’s largest solar farm, capable of providing electricity to 5,000 New England homes, according to the developer.

Most of the objections had to do with the trade-off: green power vs. the loss of trees, habitat and hiking trails.

The developer understands that there are rare, threatened and endangered species on the site, Town Administrator Mark Bender said.

But Audrey Fraizer, a member of the Conservation Commission who said she was not speaking for the commission, said the southern part of Brox, known as community lands, would be more suitable than the hilly woodlands and wetlands of the northern section.

Bob Grogan, a local hunter, was concerned about the wildlife. Other people complained there is little information on the company’s website, and Bender said company representatives will be at the Deliberative Session.

Suzanne Fournier, coordinator of Brox Environmental Citizens, said hiking and cycling trails would be lost or disconnected, and carbon locked up in trees and in the soil would be released when the woods are cleared.

Residents would lose the oxygen produced by the trees, she said, and the habitats of small animals would be disrupted.

“Why did Granite Apollo choose such an unsuitable site?” she said. The solar industry trade association advises companies to conserve natural resources, so why do they want to “destroy this fabulous ecological treasure?”

Rodney Richey said he is leery of long-term contracts and if Granite Apollo ever decommissioned the site, the town would be left with a wasteland. The town needs to know more about the firm, he said.

Last year, Granite Apollo signed a letter of intent with the town of Hopkinton to develop a 17-megawatt project at the 133 acre landfill it shares with Webster. The company also plans a 10-megawatt solar project in Londonderry, on a Superfund site.

Ever since Milford bought it 20 years ago the town has been trying to interest businesses in buying the northern half of the Brox property. Lack of infrastructure has been a major barrier, so it is ideal for a solar farm, Bender said, which does not need sewers, water connections or improved roads.

The terms of the lease are spelled out in Article 32, one of 34 articles in this year’s town warrant. Annual rent for years one through five would be $1,000 per acre and subsequent years the rent would increase, giving the town $3.4 6 million over the 25 years. There are also three renewal terms, with a grand total of $6.33 million over 40 years, plus the town would negotiate a payment in lieu of taxes for additional revenue.

Selectmen support the article unanimously and the budget committee support it 7-2.

Voting on the articles, zoning ordinances and town officers will take place on Election Day, Tuesday, March 12.