Originally published in The Weekly Packet, March 16, 2023
Planning board approves SolAmerica
Project moves ahead, community concerns remain
Aerial view shows the perimeter of SolAmerica’s proposed 17-acre solar facility—11 acres of which will be fenced-in solar equipment—off of Blue Hill’s South Street.
by Maggie White
“I think we are in agreement that we are not going to reopen the record,” said Planning Board Chair Mary Alice Hurvitt at the board’s March 8 meeting, speaking in reference to SolAmerica’s proposed solar energy project and the decision letter that the board had been working on with town attorney Aga Dixon. With that, to quote Dixon, “it’s as simple as making a motion” to approve the letter and therefore the project. A motion was made, and board approval was unanimous: SolAmerica’s project will be moving forward.
The decision letter had been drafted by Dixon during and after the last planning board meeting on February 8, when a five-plus hour session included a public hearing where many townspeople spoke to express concerns and raise questions about the large-scale solar project that is slated for a 17-acre property on South Street (11 acres will house the fenced-in solar equipment).
The letter lists conditions for the project’s approval and was “heavily edited” during back-and-forth between the planning board and Dixon over the past month. Of the arduous process, Dixon expressed gratitude: “It makes my job certainly a lot easier to have a thoughtful and concerned board working with me.”
The letter, once signed and approved, will be available to the public through the town hall at a date yet to be determined, but that Hurvitt guessed would be “very soon.”
Once the decision letter was approved by board vote, Hurvitt opened the meeting up for public comment. “There should be no discussion about SolAmerica at this point,” Dixon said before signing off (she attended via Zoom). Dixon’s admonishment was not heeded; several townspeople still had things to say on the matter.
Semena Curlick, speaking from a letter she’d written and given to town hall personnel to distribute to the planning board earlier this year, echoed some of the environmental and health concerns voiced by others at previous hearings.
“As a citizen, I am concerned about toxicity, and I want everyone to know about [the risks]…how are you protecting us from groundwater damage?” she asked, also posing the question as to whether any of the select board or planning board members “were in financial entanglements with SolAmerica.”
The risk of water contamination was an issue that Blue Hill resident (and South Street neighbor of the project’s site) Jason Young brought up, as well. Though Young has articulated his opposition and concerns about this project on many fronts and on many public occasions, the project’s approval seemed to result in a change of tack—from thoughts of prevention to those of recourse.
“I’m curious if my well water is contaminated, if I would litigate in the direction of the town or the corporation?” asked Young, who added that his wife Rachel Randall makes her livelihood from their land.
Young also said that he had issued a request to SolAmerica in October that they “definitely not use” Chint inverters on this project, citing the many fires that have been reported in Georgia as a result of the made-in-China equipment that SolAmerica has used on past projects. (A U.S. District Court document found on solarpowerworldonline.com about the fires Young referenced reads, “Due to the defects in Chint’s inverters, Plaintiffs’ solar facilities have collectively experienced approximately three dozen fires in less than a two-year period.”)
Blue Hill resident John Hart, master electrician and longtime employee of Revision Energy, stood up to offer himself as a community resource given the extent of his experience in the field. Saying that while he had no particular stake in the SolAmerica discussion, Hart asserted that “solar can be done responsibly” and said that he’d welcome questions and dialogue from anyone in the community on the matter.
Of Hart’s offer, Hurvitt said, “That’s very generous of you,” adding that an employee of Versant had also offered a similar service and that perhaps a Q&A could be arranged.
“The questions are there. The concerns are real. This is one chapter. We’re not done with the story yet,” said Hurvitt, who reminded everyone in attendance that a good way to have their voices heard is to attend the town meeting and vote. Voting will take place at the town office on Friday, April 7, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and the town meeting will be at the Blue Hill Consolidated School on Saturday, April 8, at 9 a.m.