After a four-month series of public hearings, the Planning Board on Oct. 1 voted to deny a Commercial Solar Photovoltaic Special Permit Application by TJA Clean Energy to build a facility on 34 acres off Wilson Street.
On Dec. 4, the applicant filed an appeal to that decision in state Land Court.
“This action is filed pursuant to M.G,L. chapter 40A, section 17, in which the Plaintiff, TGA Clean Energy LLC, is aggrieved by a decision of the Hopkinton Planning Board which voted 1 in favor, 5 against and 2 abstentions to fail to grant and effectively deny the application for Special Permit on October 1, 2018,” according to a trial court filing.
The Special Permit Application failed to garner the required two-thirds majority vote, despite advice the Planning Board received in advance.
According to a document submitted during the course of the hearings, the Planning Board received the following advice from the state:
“The Attorney General advised the Town in its approval of the solar bylaw of the following:
“A. These special permit standards in Section 210-203 (D) appear to be consistent with the Town’s general zoning power and the power to impose reasonable regulations on solar uses ‘where necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare.’ G.L. c. 40, § 3.
“However, the Town should consult closely with Town Counsel throughout the special permit review process to ensure that the standards in Section 210-203 (D) are not applied in a manner that contravenes the protections granted to solar energy systems in G.L. c. 40A, § 3. B.”
The only vote in favor of the plan came from Planning Board vice chair Fran DeYoung, who as it happens is the longest-serving board member.
Among the two abstentions was Planning Board chair Muriel Kramer.
“I just wanted to preserve an abstention if when you come back I didn’t want to have taken a no or yes position. I could have voted either way, truly,” Kramer said after the vote.
“I’m really appreciative of the work that has gone into this to mitigate the difficulties of the site, and I am extremely appreciative of the work that has gone into it and was pledged to go into it to protect the sites of cultural and historic significance,” Kramer added.
Such concessions by the developer seem to have been outweighed by pushback from abutters on Wilson Street — a town-designated scenic road.
Even before the first hearing in early June, many neighbors voiced opposition to the plan.
Most based concerns on their perceived negative impact the solar arrays would have on the rural character of the neighborhood.
Representatives of TJA Clean Energy attempted to address neighbors’ concerns with plans for vegetative screening and “to maintain a buffer area around the perimeter of the lot that is sufficient to separate/visually screen the use from abutting properties,” according to a submitted document.
Another issue brought to the attention of the Planning Board involved the historic preservation of some 20 Native American ceremonial stones on the site.
However, the applicant, in concert with an expert from the Narragansett Indian Tribe Historic Preservation Office, submitted a preservation plan.
“Methods of protection include adjusting grading, landscaping and racking systems to avoid sensitive areas. Construction fencing and wooden boxes will also be placed around the stones to protect them during construction,” according to a submitted document.
Another focus of the Wilson Street neighbors’ opposition was the amount of visible infrastructure associated with the electrical interconnection underground.
And the Planning Board requested that the applicant review the feasibility of the interconnection point on Cedar Street.
After conferring with its electrical consultants, TJA Solar still felt that the proposed point of interconnection should remain on Wilson Street.
“Infrastructure is limited to equipment cabinets situated on concrete pads. The applicant is amenable to making this a condition of approval. Additional screening has also been added to this area to block the view from Wilson Street,” according to a submitted document.