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Citizens' Group Asks For Closer State Review Of Proposed Solar Project In Milford

Brox Environmental Citizens

The state Site Evaluation Committee will decide whether to hold a special approval process for a proposed solar farm in Milford, after receiving petitions from nearby residents.

The proposed array, from a local subsidiary of New York-based Olivewood Energy, would have a capacity of 16 megawatts – about half the size of the normal minimum for SEC consideration.

A community group called Brox Environmental Citizens – named for the piece of land where the solar farm would be built – wants the SEC to step in and decide whether to review the project anyway. 

The group submitted petitions with that request, signed by residents in Milford and four surrounding towns. 

Group coordinator Suzanne Fournier, who has raised environmental concerns about the project in the past, said in a December letter to the SEC that the petitions' signers hold a range of opinions about solar power and this proposal. Some are in support and some are skeptical. 

“What these 223 different-thinking individuals all have in common is that each of them would like the S.E.C. to review the Project comprehensively as only the S.E.C. can do,” Fournier wrote. “They signed because they believe that such a review for a required certificate would be for the public good.”

The SEC said this week that they’ll schedule adjudicative hearings to decide whether to take the project on. A date for those hearings is not yet set.

Just months ago, the committee approved its first-ever solar array – a 30-megawatt project in Fitzwilliam, from Florida-based NextEra, which owns Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant.

During hearings on that project, some committee members raised concerns about impacts to wildlife and wetlands. Milford residents want the SEC to discuss similar issues for their local project.

“[B]ecause assessment of the broad range of impacts of the proposed Project reaches beyond what [state environmental regulators] can evaluate on their own, the petitioners respectfully request that the S.E.C. require a certificate to be able to conduct a much more thorough review of the Project as allowed under law,” Fournier wrote in her letter.

Olivewood spokesman Andrew Provencher says in a statement that the company hasn’t yet applied for a local building permit for the project, known as Milford Spartan Solar.

"The Town of Milford has demonstrated a good understanding of the issues and we are very comfortable with their ability to handle the permitting process,” Provencher says. “We have enjoyed working with the Town and look forward to doing so in the future."

SEC approvals are typically more exhaustive than local building permit processes, requiring committee members to find the project meets four complex tests of code before certifying it. 

A project can be denied if it fails to pass muster on technical or financial grounds, or if it’s found to have an outsized impact on a range of environmental and economic factors.

The SEC can also impose conditions on a project to address concerns that come up during the hearing process, or direct a developer to re-apply for certification with an altered proposal.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.

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