HOLLISTON – The Planning Board last night delayed yet again a decision on the Bullard Street solar farm proposal.
The main objection raised last night by about 50 residents was potential threat the panels might pose to neighbors’ health.
“This is my neighborhood and I’m asking you not to threaten my safety,” said Stacey McGovern, who lives adjacent to the proposed 7-acre solar farm.
McGovern has cochlear implants that help her hear. The Holliston teacher and mother of three said she worked for five years to find a way to hear again.
“This is threatening my children, my livelihood,” she said.
Developers said the radio-frequency interference from the panels will be below the level of household appliances, but McGovern said everyday appliances often irritate her hearing devices.
She said the implants’ manufacturer, Advanced Bionics, refuses to guarantee the panels won’t affect her hearing.
Other residents said the project will drive down property values and hurt the overall appeal of the town.
“You need to look at the bigger picture,” said resident Marty Lamb.
The board last night did not vote. They asked the developer yet for more information and continued the hearing to March 22. That decision frustrated some residents, eager for a decision.
“It will never end. The questions will never be all answered,” said Bullard Street resident Sandra O’Neil. “At what point are we going to say, ‘OK, no more information, let’s decide.’”
In response to other residents’ questions, officials asked for proof of whether the panels will contain toxic chemicals like lead. They also asked for a picture of what the solar farm would look like from the street.
During the first hour and a half of last night’s meeting, engineers from Beals Associates showed what changes they have made in response from concerns raised last month.
Engineer Larry Beals pointed to a map showing how they shifted the location of equipment on the 7-acre property to move it farther away from nearby homes.
Engineer Dave Colombo said the electromagnetic field generated by the inverter on the property will be well below recommended levels.
“What’s the long-term impact,” chairman Jack Donovan asked the consultant.
“No real impact compared to walking on your normal distribution lines,” Colombo said.
Electromagnetic field levels will be at about 0.2 milligauss, he said, whereas household appliances expose Americans to about 2 milligauss daily. Radio-frequency interference will be at 0.07 volts per meter, whereas he said a different cochlear implant company said the devices can withstand up to 3 volts per meter.
Developers last night presented a list of seven solar facilities, mostly in western Massachusetts, of about the same size that are also located in residential areas, which he said demonstrates that such a project is safe and possible.
But O’Neil dismissed the list, saying the examples were not at all similar.
“This is not comparable stuff,” she said. “This is a great project in the wrong spot.”
Engineers also talked about trees on the property. They agreed to preserve six of the seven historic trees on the property and plan to plant evergreen bushes to cover up a six-foot chain link fence that will surround the panels.
As discussion continued until 11:15 last night, residents raised other concerns about proximity to wells, noise and the cost of potential litigation if the developer appeals a denial of the project.
Beals said at the end of the 25-year contract with Bullard Memorial Farm Association, Renewable Energy Massachusetts will remove the equipment and restore the land to its earlier condition.
“The farm basically wants its farm fields back to where they are,” Beals said.
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