Cape Cod Commission To Review Proposed Solar Farm Project

A subcommittee of the Cape Cod Commission has voted to review a proposed solar farm on eight acres just off MacArthur Boulevard as a Development of Regional Impact (DRI).

The commission subcommittee held a hearing on the proposed project Wednesday, August 13, afternoon at the Bourne Veterans Memorial Community Center in Buzzards Bay.

The project proponent, Fiddlers Green Limited Partnership, is proposing development of a roughly eight-acre, two-megawatt solar photovoltaic system at 53 MacArthur Boulevard. The project would be accessed by way of a 10-foot-wide, 2,000-foot-long gravel driveway leading from MacArthur Boulevard.

Cape Cod Commission regulatory officer Jeffrey M. Ribeiro told the subcommittee that the overall size of the project, 40,000 square feet, topped the commission’s threshold for any outdoor commercial enterprise and automatically qualified it for DRI review.

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Mr. Ribeiro explained that commission staff members further recommended that the project required substantive DRI review under five separate issue areas: water resources; wetlands; wildlife and plant habitat; open space; waste management.

He explained that all new projects brought before the commission qualify for substantive review under water resources. The installation of utility lines within a 100-foot buffer zone of nearby wetlands, as well as new stormwater discharge in the area and expected changes to topography qualified the project for review under wetlands. The area has been marked by state environmental agencies as a potential habitat for Eastern box turtles and six rare species of moth, triggering review under wildlife and plant habitat. Under open space, the area is mapped by the town as a “significant natural resource area,” which requires that the project maintain a 2-to-1 ratio of open space to developed area, he said. Lastly, because the on-site transformers contain a coolant that contains an ingredient determined by Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to be hazardous, the project qualifies for review under waste management.

Mr. Ribeiro said the only other possible area for substantive review would be economic development. He said that a power purchase agreement is seen as important to meeting this goal “to prove there is a need for this project and a market for the energy it will produce.” The commission staff determined the project does not require substantive review under economic benefit, contingent on an approved and executed power purchase agreement. He noted that Fiddlers Green is negotiating one with the Bourne Recreation Authority.

Bourne Recreation Authority chairman Gregory F. Folino confirmed that the authority is in negotiations with Fiddlers Green on a power purchase agreement. Mr. Folino explained to the subcommittee that the recreation authority was enacted by the state Legislature so it operates “somewhat independently of the town.” The authority oversees operation of John Gallo Ice Arena and Bourne Scenic Park, and their biggest concern is the cost of energy, he said.

He noted that Bourne Scenic Park is on federal property, so the authority’s landlord is the United States and the Army Corps of Engineers. He said that while the authority supports the solar project, it “can’t do a whole heck of a lot without their blessing and approval.”

Neither Mr. Folino nor Fiddlers Green’s representative Edward Simpson would discuss pricing details of any power purchase agreement currently being negotiated.
Bourne town planner Coreen V. Moore told the subcommittee that the project is in keeping with the town’s Local Comprehensive Plan (LCP.) Ms. Moore pointed out that the site selected for the project is within a solar photovoltaic system overlay district as outlined in the LCP. She said the placement of the solar panels meets the town’s setback requirement of 50 feet from conservation land, and the project itself meets the town’s efforts at green initiatives.

“In our LCP and in our zoning, it shows the Town of Bourne supports this type of project,” Ms. Moore said.

Following the meeting, Ms. Moore admitted that the proposed solar farm would not directly benefit the town, given that solar energy projects in Bourne are done in cooperation with Cape Light Compact. She said that Fiddlers Green’s operation would answer both state and local efforts to implement green initiatives.

Bourne energy coordinator Richard D. Elrick also spoke in support of the project. Mr. Elrick pointed out that Bourne has “a long-standing policy to reduce energy use and develop the use of renewable energy.” He noted that both Bourne Middle School and Bournedale Elementary School have roof-mounted solar systems, and the community building has a brand-new 35-kilowatt solar system installed through the Cape and Vineyard Electrical Cooperative.

“When one thinks of all the different types of development that can take place, this is certainly one of the most benign,” he said, urging the subcommittee’s support of the project.

The only negative voice heard was Christopher B. Kapsambelis of Buzzards Bay. A member of the selectmen’s energy committee, Mr. Kapsambelis said he was not speaking as a committee member, but for himself. He said he was concerned about the possibility of clear-cutting trees in order to make room for the solar farm. He said that vegetation and trees produce carbon dioxide and suggested that the loss of forested land in order to put up the photovoltaic panels would be counterproductive.

“I don’t think there’s going to be enough savings by the solar panel generation to offset what could be done naturally,” he said.

Subcommittee chairman Ernest S. Virgilio said that he would take Mr. Kapsambelis’s concerns under advisement, along with the comments from Mr. Folino, Ms. Moore and Mr. Elrick.

The subcommittee agreed to continue the matter to the commission’s next meeting on September 4 at 5:30 PM at the commission’s office on Main Street in Barnstable.

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