The Pomfret Town Board voted 4-1 this week to approve a solar farm on Farel Road after a lengthy, wide-ranging and occasionally odd public hearing.
John Sedota was the lone no vote on a permit for RIC Energy’s plan to build solar panels on a 45-acre plot previously used for cabbage farming.
RIC Energy increased its proposed setbacks of equipment from property lines and altered the configuration of the site to make it less visible, in response to complaints from nearby residents.
Wednesday’s hearing clocked in at one hour, 12 minutes and featured many of those same residents who expressed concerns at previous town meetings. This hearing, however, also saw some people supporting the project.
Marcia Westling spoke to “encourage this council to be part of the movement” toward renewable energy sources. She said there will be “positive environmental and policy impacts” from solar power.
A letter of support was read from Michael Bobseine, who praised the public involvement in the project and the modifications it led to. He said more renewable energy developments, such as the one in question, are needed to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
A woman who said she lived on Farel Road stated that an occasional glimpse of solar panels would make her feel good that Pomfret is part of the renewable energy movement. That was in apparent response to another neighbor who complained she would be able to see the panels from her front windows.
Two others spoke to back the solar project — but there was also plenty of concern expressed about it.
RIC Energy representatives attending the hearing were peppered with questions about things such as sight lines, tree plantings, the site’s decommissioning plan and white noise from the solar panels.
RIC Energy’s Kevin Bliss said the solar farm’s 21 panels will emit about 60 decibels of sound when measured 100 feet away. That’s comparable to a normal conversation, he said, adding that the nearest home will be more than 300 feet away from the panels.
Bliss also said an access road to the farm was removed from the plan after neighbors complained.
He added that, due to supply chain issues, the project will not begin construction until spring 2023.
At one point in the hearing, a woman worried that solar energy could cause harmful radiation. The RIC Energy representatives, town officials and members of the crowd all attempted to convince her that solar-generated energy is conveyed through regular power lines and does not cause any more harm than electricity produced through another source.
Another town resident criticized the town clerk, claiming she mailed him a copy of a permit for the site with his name on it, when he did not want his name used. Vento denied sending the item, and it came out that RIC Energy had actually mailed the document. The man angrily told the RIC Energy representatives to remove his name from their documents.
Bliss later said he investigated the possible effects of the solar panels on dogs, in response to neighbors’ concerns and because he’s a dog owner himself. He spoke to a dog behavior expert who assured him the panels will not harm the animals.