Developers, regulators tour Norwich farm for proposed solar project

Editor's note: this version corrects the name of the farm on the Stott's property. It is the Mountain Ash Farm.

Norwich — Farm owner Kelvin Stott made sure nearly 15 acres of feed corn was cut in time for Tuesday's site walk by state officials and representatives from a solar array development firm applying for state approval for a 4.93-megawatt solar energy-generating project at the historic farm.

Seven generations of Stotts have farmed the now 27-acre property at the top of Plain Hill Road and Stott Avenue since 1878.

The family was approached by officials from the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative and the solar project developers, SolarCity and Brightfields Development LLC. and asked if they would consider a solar project on the property.

On Tuesday afternoon, representatives from SolarCity and Brightfields, project engineers and the project attorney escorted members of the Connecticut Siting Council and its staff through the freshly cut cornfields, plans in hand to show how 15,912 solar panels would be placed on the property.

SolarCity and Brightfields have applied to the Connecticut Siting Council for a waiver of a public hearing in the approval process.

The state agency has 60 days from the date of receiving the application on Aug. 25 to decide whether to waive the hearing, and 180 days overall to act on the application.

The project would displace Stott's At Bat Restaurant at 9 Stott Ave., owned by Kelvin and Frances Stott's daughter, Jean Stott.

The former Mountain Ash Farm house and buildings at 292 Plain Hill Road would remain intact and occupied by the Stott family.

Kelvin Stott grew the corn for the Cushman Farm in Franklin. The fields were cut Monday and Tuesday morning.

Standing behind the farmhouse and to the side of one section of farm outbuildings, Brightfields principal Mike Singer pointed out boundaries for the project and the farm, saying there would be vegetative buffers between both the farm and the two large areas of wetlands on the property.

SolarCity has a 20-year lease for the property and a concurrent 20-year purchase power agreement with the Connecticut Municipal Electrical Energy Cooperative for the electricity, which would be fed directly into CMEEC-member Norwich Public Utilities.

Kelvin Stott and Singer joked that they already had “a fist fight” over the boundary and Stott retained a small portion of one cornfield that still could grow hay or corn.

A fence would surround the entire solar project and no work would be done in the large wetlands. A small isolated wetland in the center of a field would be filled in for the project, Singer said.

The solar project would need little maintenance, with mowing planned four times a year and preventive maintenance also a few times per year.

An existing access road to a cellphone tower would be used, with branch roads for the solar project emanating from that road.

The development — which does not need local planning and zoning permits but might need inland wetlands permits — would be part of a network of several proposed solar projects proposed through CMEEC.

In response to technical questions by Siting Council officials concerning connections with NPU lines, Singer said the developers are in negotiations over those engineering issues now.

NPU lines are overhead on Plain Hill Road, and underground on Stott Avenue in the Stanley Israelite Norwich Business Park.

Crews will be at the property Wednesday to dig test holes to determine the depth of the proposed posts that would anchor the solar panels, Singer said.

The developers hope to receive approvals — including local building permits and an agreement with NPU — in time to build the solar arrays this winter and go online next year.

c.bessette@theday.com

Twitter: @Bessettetheday

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