Commission OKs plan for solar project

BEACON FALLS — The Planning and Zoning Commission has approved the site plan, with a few caveats, for a solar panel project on Lopus Road.

Green Beacon Falls, LLC wants to build an array of solar panels on the same property as the wastewater treatment plant. Troy, N.Y.-based Jordan Energy will install and maintain the panels.

The solar panel array will consist of approximately 1,050 solar panels on 2 acres of land and generate up to 351 kilowatts of energy, Jordan Energy Founder and CEO Bill Jordan said.

According to the minutes of the commission’s Nov. 17 meeting, the site plan was approved, 6-1, with three stipulations: Town Engineer Jim Galligan must review and approve the site plan, it must be determined whether a primary structure to hold the solar panels is needed at the site, and   the commission must receive confirmation from Town Attorney Stephen Byrne that clarifies that Jordan Energy would qualify as a public utility.

The project will be built on land zoned for industrial use. The project wouldn’t be allowed on the parcel unless it is a public utility.

A concern was raised at the meeting over whether Jordan Energy is a public utility under Connecticut law, Chairman Kevin McDuffie said in a subsequent interview. While the company did meet the requirements of being a public utility set forth by state statutes, he said, the commission wanted a letter from the attorney confirming this to make sure the town is covered.

A motion to hold a public hearing on the plan was rejected, 6-1, according to the minutes.

McDuffie said the commission voted that way, in part, because the Board of Selectmen already approved the project in February.

“[Jordan Energy] had to come in front of us. There was no zone change. They were just submitting a site plan,” McDuffie said.

The project is part of the state’s Zero Emission Renewable Energy Credit (ZREC) Program.

Under the program, the state pays companies, such as Jordan Energy, a set rate for every 1,000 kilowatt hours of power generated. Jordan Energy will receive a credit of $42.78 for every 1,000 kilowatt hours of power.

The company has a 20-year contract, which was previously approved by the Board of Selectmen, to sell the energy it generates back to the town at a lower rate than what Eversource Energy charges.

The Board of Finance urged the commission to take no action on the plan in a letter that raised financial concerns about the contract and questions on the cost of moving materials on the property to clear the land.

The letter was read by the commission at its meeting, but the commission decided the matter “is a feud between the [Board of Finance] and the [Board of Selectmen] it is not an issue for this commission,” the minutes state.

First Selectman Christopher Bielik said the project gives the town a direct benefit because “we are going to have cost certainty for the level of output we are going to generate from this solar farm.”

Bielik added, “Any time we can bring new cutting edge technology in to replace older, less environmentally friendly sources, then that’s always to the good. It helps demonstrate that Beacon Falls is very environmentally friendly, we are looking forward to solutions beneficial to the environment and town. This is another step in showing we are doing that.”

Bielik said the town is talking with O&G Industries, which owns a vacant 2-acre parcel of land adjacent to the wastewater treatment plant, about moving the brush and other organic material stored on the site to the company’s vacant parcel.

Clearing the land is the last hurdle before construction can move forward. Once construction starts, it should take about two months to complete depending on the weather, Jordan said.