Published March 15. 2013 4:00AM
East Lyme - Residents and the state Siting Council weighed a proposal Thursday to build solar panels to produce 5 megawatts of energy on land on Grassy Hill and Walnut Hill roads.
The 17,500 photovoltaic panels and equipment would stretch across roughly 35 acres of the 76-acre land parcel near the Montville border.
In 2011, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection had selected GRE 314 East Lyme, a limited liability company under Middletown-based Greenskies Renewable Energy, to enter into a renewable-energy purchasing agreement with a utility company.
Greenskies is proposing to begin installing panels, expected to last 25 years, in July with completion by the end of the year.
Following a field visit of the company's proposed site Thursday afternoon, the Siting Council asked the company questions at a public hearing spanning from details on drainage and maintenance to noise levels.
In response to a question about the project's lifespan, Robert Landino, the Greenskies Board of Directors chairman, said the company would ask Connecticut Light & Power to continue to buy power after the expiration of the 20-year purchasing agreement with the company. If not, he said Greenskies would restore the site by removing the panels.
He added that the panels' 25-year lifespan estimate was "conservative" and that the panels could still provide energy for another entity, perhaps the town.
The second hearing session for public comment, held in the evening, drew about 18 residents.
Deputy First Selectman Mark Nickerson thanked the Siting Council for its work and for conducting the proceedings in town.
"The town officially remains neutral on this position, but we are neutral as long as this project remains a taxable concern," Nickerson said of the solar field.
Luane Lange, chairwoman of the Historic Properties Commission, supported ensuring that the 18th century "Tinker House" on Walnut Hill Road is preserved. Later in the meeting, Landino said the company plans to preserve and renovate the house.
Resident Bob Hudyma said Pigeon Hill, the site of the proposed development, experiences frequent lightning strikes because of its elevation. In researching solar panels, he said he found they are "made of over 50 toxins which are cancer-causing." He said whether he supports or opposes the project is now a "toss-up," because of his concerns that if lightning broke the panels, toxins could reach residents' drinking water.
In response, Landino said Greenskies' solar panels have built-in lightning protection. In addressing security concerns, he said the company, which plans to operate the panels virtually, is also willing to install security cameras.