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Somerset farmland eyed as solar panel field


Town-owned farmland off Wilbur Avenue, one of the few expanses of agricultural land in town, could be used instead for a solar panel field, bringing the town far greater revenue than current farming uses, if an idea pitched by the town administrator becomes reality.

The town has leased the farmland for years but makes only a few thousand dollars a year in rent, town administrator Dennis Luttrell said. A solar panel field in a cleared area of the land of nearly 28 acres could bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said.

Selectmen gave Luttrell approval last week to issue a request for proposals from contractors who might be interested in pursuing the project. Selectman Patrick O’Neil called it the type of project that will be looked at decades later and called a no-brainer.

The request for proposals will be put out soon, with responses likely to come back in late November to mid-December.

Luttrell estimated the potential annual revenue to the town at roughly $200,000 based on the average number of megawatts generated per acre worth of solar panels and the going rate for selling power or leasing land for companies to set up their own solar panels. The project would be good for the town by shrinking its environmental footprint, for taxpayers by bringing in new revenue and the environment by providing clean energy, he said.
“Hopefully, everyone comes out ahead in this.”

The size of the potential solar project could make it more feasible than smaller rooftop solar projects proposed by the town last year. Town officials hoped to be able to add solar panels to schools and other town buildings but didn’t find anyone interested in pursuing it.

Two other clean-energy initiatives are being considered by the town: adding solar panels to the roof of the Highway Department garage on Brayton Point Road and potentially adding solar or wind power to the former landfill down the street.

Luttrell and O’Neil will review proposals received in recent weeks and will report to the Board of Selectmen next week to discuss what the town’s next steps should be.

The roof of the Highway Department garage was replaced two years ago with a so-called solar-ready roof so panels could be added without drilling into the top surface and a has place to feed wires to a room down below for a converter. One proposal received by the town said an investment in panels could be paid off within six years, Luttrell said.

Around 11 acres on the former landfill could be available for alternative energy uses. The town sought proposals from consultants to study the feasibility of adding solar panels or wind turbines at the site, and four bids were received.