Solar array location raises concerns in Chesterfield

KRISTOPHER RADDER - BRATTLEBORO REFORMERThe town of Chesterfield, N.H., is exploring whether to install a solar array in a residential neighborhood, at the corner of Stage Road and Route 63, where the old town garage used to stand many years ago.

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CHESTERFIELD, N.H. — Homeowners in a residential neighborhood where the town is proposing a solar array told the town's solar committee it should find another location where the 9-foot-high structures won't affect their property values. The town's Solar Committee met with residents to hear their concerns on Thursday at Town Hall.

There were originally three sites discussed for the solar arrays, but the committee is moving forward on one location in a residential area, at the intersection of Stage Road and Route 63.

Abutters and nearby residents objected to the location, worrying that their property values would go down, that the site would be unpleasant to look at and that the installation could disturb contaminated soil below the surface.

"In California, you'd have to test the soil," resident Heather Madden said.

The site, a former town garage, was last tested in 1992 after fuel started leaking into the soil. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services demanded cleanup efforts take place and the town complied.

Madden thought it would be wise to test the soil again, before the arrays are placed, considering that there are newer testing methods now.

Committee members argued that the arrays wouldn't disturb the soil because excavation would be done down to only 18 inches.

Meeting moderator Gary Winn said that if residents were still concerned about testing they'd have to bring it up to the town's Board of Selectmen.

Madden didn't understand why the arrays couldn't be placed on a property owned by the school. Her husband, Eric Barron, agreed. He thought that about 90 percent of the audience was pro-solar, but that the location was the problem.

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"Guys," he said. "It's simple: Put it behind the school. You're trying to put it in a residential [neighborhood]."

The Solar Committee had considered placing the array at the school, but the School Board decided it wanted to install its own solar project, so the town had to find another location. Many residents didn't understand why the town couldn't compel the school to give space to the solar arrays, because after all, Chesterfield taxpayers are shouldering the bill for both projects.

Barbara Girs, who used to serve on the School Board, explained that the Board of Selectmen has no say over school governance. "It's like a separate town," she said of the school's governance system.

John Kondos, a member of the Solar Committee, said that if the school follows through on its solar project, arrays could be placed both at the school and in town, both of which would help the town reduce its energy costs. The committee estimated that the arrays would save the town a minimum $20,000. The town's array was pitched to residents not only for its money-saving benefits, but also because it would supplement the town's overall energy grid.

In regards to property values, Brad Roscoe, another member of the Solar Committee, admitted that the committee wasn't able to find any data about whether or not the array would lower property values. In terms of aesthetics, he said, there would be trees and shrubs placed on the perimeter of the solar array to help hide it. However, residents were still skeptical about how it would be possible to totally conceal structures that are 9 feet tall.

The Solar Committee intends to meet further with abutters to hopefully address their concerns.

Harmony Birch can be reached at,

@Birchharmony on Twitter and 802-254-2311, Ext. 153.