A solar farm many times larger than any currently operating in New Hampshire is being eyed for more than 100 acres near the Webster-Hopkinton border.
The project, not far from the two-town transfer station, will be discussed Monday evening by the Webster Select Board. It is still in the preliminary stages but has been under development in various forms for at least two years. Construction would not begin until 2022 at the earliest, according to Olivewood, the New York-based energy development firm behind the proposal.
The online discussion via Zoom will begin at 7:15 p.m. Monday. Details are available on the Webster town website.
As currently envisioned, the solar farm would have an output of 75 megawatts, or 75 million watts, which is enough to supply about 38,000 homes.
The largest solar project currently operating in New Hampshire is only 3 MW, on the Fidelity Investments campus in Merrimack, and the largest being developed is a 30 MW project in the town of Fitzwilliam known as Chinook Solar. Chinook Solar, being built by Florida-based energy giant NextEra, was approved by the state’s Site Evaluation Committee last month to be the first utility-scale solar farm in New Hampshire.
“We think it’s a positive that the (SEC) has shown suport for other utility scale projects,” said Dominic Lebel of Olivewood.
The Hopkinton-Webster project surfaced more than two years ago when Granite Apollo, a regional development firm, approached Hopkinton with the idea of putting solar panels on town-owned land at the Hopkinton-Webster Transfer Station. Granite Apollo was bought by Olivewood later that year.
Lebel said that initial plans calling for a smaller solar operation ran into complications with interconnections, the process by which energy providers hook into the overall power grid. Large solar farms require higher-voltage transmission lines, not just distribution lines of the sort that run down every street, to unload their power.
The current proposal has moved slightly east of the transfer station onto at least 100 acres of private land owned or leased by Olivewood, north of Deer Meadow Mobile Home Park and straddling Deer Meadow Road. This would allow it to interconnect with a nearby 230 kilovolt transmission line running north-south. That interconnection would require building a substation. Such a substation generally costs around $1.5 million; Lebel said that extra cost led Olivewood to expand the size.
A timeline presented by Olivewood indicated that permitting, developing the interconnection and lining up energy sales would continue through next year, with construction not to begin before 2022 at the earliest. Details about how many panels would be placed on ground-mounted arrays and where they would go on the property, which includes some wetlands, must still be worked out.
Craig Fournier, a member of the Webster Planning Board, said much of the land is already cleared, including a former gravel pit, although portions closer to the transfer station are wooded.
“Generally speaking, the town of Webster is supportive of this project. Most of it is not visible from the road, back in the woods, on fairly flat land,” he said. “There’s nothing on the property anymore” in terms of buildings.
But Fournier said that many questions remain to be answered, ranging from topics like fences to block the view of any abutters to the possible use of herbicides to tax impact to the financial stability of Olivewood.
“Who is Olivewood? Are they capable of this? Who are their investors?” he asked. “I’m on the planning commission, and I’m happy the (Site Evaluation Committee) is going to take a look at this.”
Olivewood’s purchase of Granite Apollo has involved them in at least one other major New Hampshire project, a 20 MW project in Milford that is in the development stage.
New Hampshire is a laggard compared to its New England neighbors in terms of large solar developments, although there are a number of proposals in the pipeline.