East Lyme solar field emerges

East Lyme - A solar field in town that will supply 5 megawatts of renewable energy to the electric grid is nearing completion, after months of construction.

More than 17,500 solar photovoltaic panels covering about 24 acres by Grassy Hill and Walnut Hill roads will produce approximately 6.3 million kilowatt hours of electricity once finished later this spring. That's enough to power nearly 900 homes per year, according to the solar panel company Greenskies Renewable Energy.

Greenskies, based in Middletown and co-founded by state Sen. Art Linares, R-Westbrook, has a 20-year purchasing agreement to supply the energy to United Illuminated and Connecticut Light & Power. The state Siting Council approved construction plans for the field last year.

GRE 314 East Lyme LLC, a Greenskies subsidiary, is aiming to complete the project by the end of April, said Greenskies Senior Vice President Andrew Chester. Power to the electric grid will begin flowing shortly thereafter, said CL&P spokesman Mitch Gross.

"Everything is on track," Chester said. "We are in the final stages and staring at the finish line."

Construction of the solar field, which began in September, entailed re-grading some of the property, completing a storm water drainage plan and attaching the panels to a metal rack system. It also called for installing "inverters" that will direct current from the sun-powered panels to the electric grid, Chester said.

Live monitoring equipment will analyze data from the solar fields and alert crews if anything unusual occurs, Chester said. But with no moving parts, solar fields are fairly low maintenance, he said.

The solar-panel company is also providing safety training for the town's first responders, who have also been involved since construction began. Fire Marshal Dick Morris said the Flanders, Niantic and Chesterfield fire departments will all receive training on how to respond in the event of an emergency. Since it involves new technology, he said, and also a new facility, there are step-by-step procedures that need to be in place. After training, the first responders will be able follow the protocol so "all of the steps are done in sequence and safely," he said.

The training is timely because it comes at a time when solar panels on private and municipal buildings in town are becoming more common, said First Selectman Paul Formica. The high school, probate court and emergency call center - among other buildings in town - already have solar panels, and the town is inching toward more renewable energy opportunities.

At its next meeting, the Board of Selectmen will discuss whether or not to bring to town a program designed to offer rebates and grants for residents who install solar panels, he said.

The "Solarize Connecticut" program is run by the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority; SmartPower, a clean energy marketing nonprofit; and the John Merck Fund of Boston, according to its website. Sixteen towns are currently participating or considering participating, it states.

A presentation on the program will be held at the meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Town Hall.



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