After concerns about what they might use the sites for, voters at Monday night’s Somerset special town meeting decided to indefinitely postpone an article that asked them to approve of allowing the selectmen to lease and/or enter into power purchase agreements for the alternative energy generation at 27.72 acres of town-owned land off of Wilbur Avenue and at the town’s former landfill, on 13.497 acres off of Brayton Point Road.
Former town moderator David Correira asked if the voters could split the article, voting for whether they would like to see alternative energy generation on either of the sites. He said residents had just voted on a new high school project that will cost millions of dollars and had transferred millions of dollars to lower taxes in town. He said leasing the sites for solar panels would mean pennies on the tax rate.
Mr. Correira said when the 120 acres of town owned land was becoming available for sale by a power company, the company was going to sell the property for commercial development and so he told former town administrator Arthur “Chick” Marchand, Jr. about it. He said he asked Mr.
Marchand if the town might be interested in buying the property to preserve it as open space or for a new school or municipal buildings in the future.
Mr. Correira said he did not have a problem with locating solar panels at the former landfill site.
Selectman Patrick O’Neil said the town could generate $300,000 a year in revenue from leasing the Wilbur Avenue land for solar power and another $100,000 per year from the former landfill.
He said he wanted to use both sites to have enough land to make such a lease attractive to companies. He said if the two properties were separated, they probably would not draw much interest.
Resident Arthur Gagnon said someone who would want to lease the property for solar panels probably would want an agreement for 20 years. Mr. O’Neil said companies would probably want a longer lease than that and said technology for the solar panels would improve during that time. Mr. Gagnon said if a medical company, or other business that would generate a lot more tax revenue was interested in the land, the property would be tied up because of the solar panels and the town would lose out on the money. Mr. O’Neil said the selectmen approached Meditech to see if that company would be interested in the property, but it was not.
Mr. O’Neil said only part of the 120-acre parcel would be used for solar panels and said that land is already cleared because it has been leased for farming at a fraction of the cost of what could be generated from photovoltaic collectors. Mr. Gagnon said a company may want all of the land off of Wilbur Avenue, not just part of it, and that could mean a lot more tax revenue for Somerset than it would get from solar panels. Mr. O’Neil said the solar panel proposal would be a lot more passive use of the land than a medical facility and would not require as many town services. He said the solar power lease could be a way to generate revenue for the town during a time when taxes have been going up.
Voters turned down Mr. Correira’s proposal to vote on the sites separately.
The article on the special town meeting warrant did not specify that the sites would be used for solar power, only alternative energy. Resident Kim Ferrara asked if that alternative energy source was changed from solar power to a wind turbine, would town meeting voters get to approve it.
Mr. O’Neil said National Grid and other owners own the former landfill site and that an agreement they have with the town says the property can be used for alternative energy.
Ms. Ferrara said the voters need to know if the sites are going to be used for solar or wind power before making a decision on the article. She noted a wind tower just was put up in Fall River.
Mr. O’Neil said the selectmen have examined using both solar and wind power over the years. He said wind power proposals generally draw opposition from neighbors because people don’t want the turbines in their back yard. He said the former landfill is not a good site for a wind turbine as far as sticking the turbine in the ground that environmental agencies do not want opened up. Mr.
O’Neil said he would want whatever alternative energy that is most cost effective, but doesn’t want to make proposals that people don’t want in their neighborhood. He also said the town may have to put up a lot of up front money for a wind turbine, as opposed to solar panels that the town would not have to borrow money for.
Resident Adam Souza said he wanted alternative energy to be defined. Mr. O’Neil said solar and wind power are the only two energies the selectmen are looking at and he does not want to close the door on wind. He said he thinks solar companies would be interested first in the sites. Mr.
Souza made a motion that the alternative energies described in the article would be for solar or wind and the amendment was approved.
Mr. Correira said there has not been any alternative energy proposals for the sites yet, so the town does not know how much it will receive in revenue or what the terms of a lease would be.
Mr. Correira said that people who live on Wilbur Avenue would be interested to know that windmills could go up on the site. He said all of the recent discussions about the property were about solar, but wind was brought up at the special town meeting.
Mr. O’Neil said the selectmen have discussed putting up a wind turbine to save money for the town on electricity in the past. He said the town has been approached by solar companies looking for locations for their panels.
Mr. Souza suggested there could be multiple turbines on the town’s land. Mr. O’Neil said the forrmer landfill does not have enough acreage for multiple turbines and said he does not want to dot the landscape with them, but does want to reduce the town’s costs for electricity and bring in more revenue to the town.
School Committee member Victor Machado said that he was not comfortable with making the decision on the alternative energy generation for the site when there were only 140 people left at the special town meeting to vote on the issue. More than 800 people came to the meeting, but many left after voting on the new high school project.
Former selectwoman Eleanor Gagnon said she wanted to know if the town was just leasing the land for alternative energy or was it going to buy equipment. She said she was fine with solar energy, but did not want to see wind turbines on Wilbur Avenue.
“Nobody was expecting wind turbines,” Ms. Gagnon said.
Ms. Gagnon said Mr. O’Neil said it was not possible to locate wind turbines at the former landfill site, so if they were considered for either location, it would be the Wilbur Avenue land.
Ms. Ferrara asked if an alternative energy company made a proposal to the town, if it could be voted on at town meeting before anything is done with it, so that residents have a say on the use of the land and there is more concrete numbers as far as how much revenue the town would make.
Mr. O’Neil said the requests for proposals for the two sites that Town Administrator Dennis Luttrell have been working on only ask for solar power projects. He said if it would please voters, he would limit use of the site to photovoltaic.
Somerset-Berkley Regional School Committee Chairman Richard Peirce suggested indefinitely postponing action on the Wilbur Avenue land and letting the selectmen pursue solar or wind proposals for the former landfill site.
Mr. Gagnon said he also thought there was not enough people at the special town meetnig to vote on the article and thought rhe town could wait until next May’s annual town meeting to make a decision on such a proposal for the sites.
By a 62-33 vote, residents decided to indefinitely postpone the article.
“We shouldn’t be voting at a town meeting on windmills with one hundred voters left at the end of the night for one of the most pristine parcels of open space purchases by the town for land preservation, especially when the impression before the town meeting was that a proposal for solar panels was pending; there was no proposal and no lease pending,” Mr. Correira said.
“Selectmen would have been given authority to enter a limited contract without further Town approval for almost any kind of energy project; I was flabbergasted as the discussion continued after my motion to bifurcate the landfill vote and the Wilbur Avenue vote failed. At least it’s been postponed in order to let the selectmen to do a little more homework.”
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