Proposal for 54-acre Concord solar farm tabled

  • NextEra Energy Resources solar panels in Alabama that would be similar to the solar farm proposed for West Portsmouth Street in Concord. The company's proposal was tabled at a Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting. Courtesy—NextEra Energy

Monitor staff
Published: 2/8/2018 10:16:38 PM

A proposal to bring a 54-acre solar farm to West Portsmouth Street in Concord was tabled due a disagreement about whether solar panels are considered an impervious surface.

NextEra Energy Resources representatives went before the city’s zoning board Thursday night to request a variance on how much lot coverage is allowed in a residential open space (RO) district.

The company is looking to build a 10-megawatt solar farm on land rented from Brochu Nursery that sells its power to the state of Connecticut. The lease would last for 20 years, after which the company would have to remove the farm’s infrastructure.

The presentation never got off the ground, however, as NextEra questioned whether they even needed a variance.

“If you look at the language related to dimensional standards and max lot coverage, there’s no specifics for what counts as lot coverage,” said Jeremy Eggleton, legal council for NextEra.

The city’s zoning does not allow for more than 10 percent of an RO-zoned lot to be covered by any impervious surfaces. NextEra’s application says a variance is needed because, when completed, the farm’s structure will cover over 70 percent of the lot.

But that’s if you count the solar panels themselves as an impervious service, which the city’s code administrator, Craig Walker, did not when NextEra first brought their application forward.

Eggleton argued that, because the land underneath the panels will remain a meadow once the farm is completed and water will still be able to reach the ground, Walker’s interpretation of the code was incorrect. Only the farm’s service roads, inverter pads and posts that hold the structure up would actually touch the ground, and ultimately count for 2.5 percent of lot coverage, he said.

“When you think about structures and building, the problem is what from a lot coverage perspective, that includes the ground underneath – it displaces it. A solar array doesn’t do that,” Eggleton said. “It sits in a cradle. The actual amount of infrastructure that contacts the ground is significantly less than what sits overhead.”

The board was skeptical however, in part because NextEra’s application states the impervious area related to its infrastructure – poles, roads, pads – will be 27.8 percent.

There was also discussion about whether the board has the power to dismiss the need for the variance in the first place.

“I appreciate you feel you don’t need a variance, but that’s not what’s in front of us,” said ZBA member Laura Scott.

The decision to table was reached after Walker suggested the board seek legal counsel as to whether NextEra’s interpretation of impervious materials was correct.

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