Proposed Hinsdale solar project

A map of the proposed Chariot Solar project was presented to the public on Monday night.

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HINSDALE, N.H. — The world’s largest generator of renewable energy from the wind and sun hopes to bring the Granite State’s largest solar array to Hinsdale.

On Monday night, NextEra Energy, with more than 40 solar arrays in 38 states, presented its plan for a 50-megawatt array, Chariot Solar, which would produce enough electricity for 7,000 homes.

However, all 7,000 homes receiving power from the array would be in 13 towns in Massachusetts.

“We have already executed power purchase agreements,” said Kaleigh Crissman, project manager.

Although the power is going to towns in the Bay State, Hinsdale will receive $12 million over the next 20 years after the Board of Selectmen signed a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program agreement that will result in an average annual payment of $582,000 to the town, said Matt Magnuson, an economic analyst with Seacoast Economics in Hampton Falls.

Hinsdale will also receive a 10 percent payment as a result of the state’s land use change tax, he said. The tax is based on the market value of the land when it is taken out of current use. Magnuson said he won’t be able to nail down that number until the land is actually assessed just prior to the purchase agreements between NextEra and the various landowners.

Magnuson said that counting the $12 million to Hinsdale, the project itself will contribute $41 million to the economy. That includes sourcing local supplies, paying people to work on the project, and money spent in the community by the workers, he said.

About 150 jobs will be created during construction, Crissman said.

The project will be in a large swath of land divided by Lipscomb Brook, which flows into the Connecticut River at the Hinsdale Town Park on Route 119, just south of Tractor Supply.

“This project is developed around the land,” said Bryan Garner, director of communications and marketing for NextEra. “We avoided wetlands. We avoided sensitive areas.”

The site is about 250 acres that have been historically logged, though the arrays will be in nine separate locations, each fenced off individually. A portion of the project has also been used as hay fields. The lots are in the town’s Industrial District, and the solar array would be a conforming use.

The fencing is designed with a 6-inch gap at ground level to allow for the movement of small animals such as turtles and snakes, said Dana Valleau, who conducted the environmental assessment for the site. Because each of the arrays will be independently fenced, other wildlife will be able to travel around the parcels.

Garner said NextEra is always on the hunt for new sites for its solar arrays. He said the company looks for five things, including good solar exposure, available land, willing landowners, access to transmission lines and customers.

All of those came together in Hinsdale, he said.

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The next step for NextEra is to present its proposal to the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee, which is tasked by the New Hampshire State Legislature to review, approve, monitor and enforce compliance in the planning, siting, construction and operation of energy facilities.

If the Site Evaluation Committee approves the project, it will come back before the town for subdivision approval. Construction is slated to start in late 2022, and the array will start producing electricity a year later.

Janet Sinclair, who traveled up from Shelburne Falls, Mass., said $12 million over 20 years sounds like a lot, but it averages out to about $150 each year for each of Hinsdale’s 3,905 residents.

Sinclair also asked Hinsdale residents to consider that New England is in the midst of a biodiversity crisis.

“Using 300 acres of land anywhere to put up solar panels is something you should think about,” she said, while admitting Hinsdale residents may not have much say in the location of the arrays because they live in New Hampshire, which doesn’t give residents as much say as does Massachusetts.

Doreen Wonderlick, an abutter to the proposed project, said she is not opposed to solar and, in fact, has solar panels on her home, but she said she is concerned about the loss of woodlands and agricultural land.

Crissman noted that some of the ATV trails that crisscross the parcels under discussion will be closed to the public if the project goes forward.

NextEra is operating a 20-megawatt array in Ludlow and Cavendish, Vt., and is building Chinook Solar, a 30-megawatt array in Fitzwilliam, N.H.

Chariot Solar is a subsidiary of NextEra, which is in Juno Beach, Fla.

NextEra is a publicly traded company. According to information from the New York Stock Exchange, its major shareholders include Vanguard, which holds about 16 percent of its stocks, and SSgA Funds Management and BlackRock Fund Advisors, which each hold about 5 percent.

Crissman said NextEra has invested $90 billion into renewable projects since 2010.

Garner said NextEra will be required to bond the decommissioning cost as part of the process, meaning that even if NextEra doesn’t exist in 20 years, or whenever the project gets decommissioned, there will be money available to return the parcels to their previous state.

Garner also said the cost of the project is proprietary because it is “competitive information.”

According to documents found online, one of the participants is Bellingham, Mass., which will receive electricity at a little more than 10 cents per kilowatt hour. Currently, the rate in Massachusetts is a little less than 23 cents per kilowatt hour. In New Hampshire, the current rate is about 19 cents per kilowatt hour.

Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com.