Solar power in New Hampshire took a big step forward Monday, as the state Site Evaluation Committee unanimously approved a utility-scale solar project for the first time.
The 30-megawatt Chinook Solar array will cover about 100 acres of private land in the southwestern New Hampshire town of Fitzwilliam.
It’s the first solar project that’s been large enough to require SEC consideration. After two days of virtual deliberations, they agreed that the project passed all the required tests.
They say it is financially and technically sound, serves the public good and won't interfere too much with development in the region, or unreasonably harm the environment or aesthetics.
Regulators also supported most proposed conditions for the project, with some debate about tweaks to its decommissioning plan and protections for endangered species during construction.
The Chinook project will feed into the New England-wide power grid, but its emissions benefits will count toward Southern New England's climate change goals, under a tristate effort to fund renewable energy development.
The project’s developer, Florida-based NextEra, said in a statement that they’ll work with the state and town to get it up and running by the end of 2021.
“The Chinook Solar Project will bring numerous benefits to the area,” said project director Heath Barefoot, “including construction jobs and increased revenue to the town with little impact to current town resources.”
NextEra also owns Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant and has solar arrays in 26 states, including one in Vermont and two in development in Maine, which is fast-tracking large solar projects under new climate action plans.
It leaves New Hampshire with the lowest current and planned solar power capacity in the region, even with the addition of the Fitzwilliam project.
The state's largest solar array is at Fidelity Investments in Merrimack, providing about 3 megawatts of power. The second-largest is about 2 megawatts, owned by the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative in Moultonborough. Both cover about 12 acres.
Most of the state's solar power is roof-mounted and limited to about 1 megawatt due to state net metering laws. The largest of those arrays was just completed by ReVision Energy atop a beer distributor in Manchester.
New Hampshire has seen other utility-scale arrays proposed but not yet completed in recent years, including a 20-megawatt installation on town land in Milford and others on top of capped landfills in Southern New Hampshire.
New Hampshire also has the lowest goals in New England for solar and renewable energy adoption.
Utilities in the state currently aren't required to get more than 0.7% of their fuel mix from solar, out of a goal of 25% renewable energy usage by 2025. Other New England states' goals range from 38.5% renewable usage by 2035 in Rhode Island, to 80% by 2030 and 100% by 2050 in Maine.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the New Hampshire Electric Co-op's 2-megawatt solar array in Moultonborough as the state's largest. There is a slightly larger array at Fidelity Investments in Merrimack. This story has been updated.