Lewis Farms looking to host large solar array

  • James Meinecke of Lewis Farm walks through his property where a 13-acre solar array may soon land while cairn terrier Libby tags along. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • James Meinecke of Lewis Farm describes the brush on his property where a 13-acre solar array may soon land. Caitlin Andrews / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 1/19/2019 8:14:29 PM

In the past year, Lewis Farm in Concord has hosted concerts and campers in an effort to diversify its business model.

The farm also produces woodchips and compost alongside its CSA veggies. Now, it’s looking to grow a different product: solar energy via a large solar farm that would be developed by Solar Wolf.

James Meinecke, who owns Lewis Farm with his wife, Concord state Rep. Rebecca McWilliams, said the project is about two-thirds of the way to becoming a reality. The farm will provide the land and Solar Wolf will design and build the array, but the project still needs an investor to provide funding and take it over once it’s complete.

As first reported by New Hampshire Public Radio, the farm would generate 5 megawatts of energy and perhaps be the largest solar array in the state at 13 acres.

But visitors to the farm are unlikely to run across the panels – the 13 acres are located far away from the main farm area down a bumpy work road best traversed by foot or an all-terrain vehicle.

The land is former cow pasture, Meinecke said, that has since been overtaken by scrub brush. But the versatility of the land was what attracted him and McWilliams to the farm, he said.

“It’s one of the reasons we bought the farm,” Meinecke said Friday. “It’s such a great property – at 130 acres, even if we cut off 13 acres for a solar array, it hardly touches what we’ve got.”

Readers might remember Brochu Farms trying to put a similar solar array off West Portsmouth Street a year ago before ultimately being denied a zoning variance because the 54-acre project was deemed to have too much impervious surface under city rules.

Like Brochu Farms, Lewis Farm is also zoned for residential open space; the difference between the two projects is the total amount of land the solar panels would cover in relation to the entire parcel of land.

Under current Concord zoning definitions and rules, the impervious area of each panel is calculated by laying it perfectly flat as if it were a piece of pavement. In a residential open space district, only 10 percent of a lot can be covered, and that includes elements of a dwelling like driveways and sheds.

Lewis said his land is about 130 acres, meaning the 13-acre proposal falls right on the 10 percent allowance. The West Portsmouth Street proposal would have covered 54 acres of the 68-acre parcel Brochu was looking to lease.

The developer for the West Portsmouth Street project, NextEra Energy Resources, argued that the panels didn’t count as impervious surfaces and would cover only around 27 percent of the land.

The city’s zoning board disagreed. But the rules may change in the future – part of the city’s commitment to 100 percent renewable energy includes looking at its solar policies.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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