New Milford pulls tax benefits from controversial solar project
NEW MILFORD — A controversial solar project that would generate 20 megawatts of power on Candlewood Mountain will no longer get tax benefits from the town.
Mayor Pete Bass notified Candlewood Solar, the project’s developer and a subset of Ameresco, that the town would not implement the negotiated payment in lieu of taxes agreement from February 2017.
The project, which was approved by the Connecticut Siting Council last year, would clearcut about 70 acres of trees to install about 60,000 panels.
It was opposed by residents and environmentalists who argued clear cutting the 70 acres or so of trees would harm wildlife’s habitats on the mountain, reduce property values and cause erosion. Pilots at adjacent Candlewood Farms also argued the panels would create a glare.
Bass says the town is not implementing the agreement “because the project has not, and is not likely to, receive approval from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection,” which was one of the agreement’s contingents, according to a press release.
Under the agreement, the power company and the company that owns the land would pay the town a total of $2.7 million over the solar farm’s 20-year lifespan, with amounts increasing from $75,000 the first year to about $200,000 the last year.
The agreement was negotiated by former Mayor David Gronbach and passed 5-4 with Gronbach casting a rare tie-breaking vote in January 2017. The language was finalized and approved by council with a 5-2-1 vote the following month.
It drew criticism from business owners in the community who said the tax benefits were unfair.
Company representatives argued though that they are paying the same amount of money, just spread out over a longer period of time and the project was not affordable because the panels were so expensive at the start, but depreciated as it went on.
Rescue Candlewood Mountain, a group of residents, filed an appeal of the Siting Council’s decision earlier this year, and filed a brief with the Superior Court earlier this month.
Bass said he and Town Attorney D. Randall DiBella learned DEEP opposed the project through that appeal, though they heard some of the concerns from the department about core forest during the hearing itself.
DEEP didn’t testify during the hearing, though the state Department of Agriculture did, arguing the project clearcut too many acres of core forest — an initiative the two departments took up last year with the passage of a law.
The law requires the siting council to balance preservation of forests and farmland against promotion of alternative energy projects. However that law went into effect a few days after the petition was filed and so the council ruled it didn’t apply.
Since the appeal was filed, DEEP submitted testimony that storm water management and drainage issues were not adequately addressed in the application process and no decommissioning plan was presented. It also is not a DEEP project, though it was selected by Massachusetts and Rhode Island as part of a tri-state requests for proposals for alternative energy projects.
Bass said when he saw that, he knew the companies “cannot fulfill the PILOT agreement.”