LEICESTER, Mass. — Solar Farms continue to sprout in Leicester since the town worked to streamline the zoning process by modifying its bylaws last fall.
The bylaw changes were endorsed by the town's newly reformed Economic Development Committee, with the Board of Selectmen and members of the Planning Board making it a priority going into town meeting in November.
"One of our earlier activities as a committee was to reach out and talk to the Planning Board and go to the hearings and support the appropriate changes of the bylaw to make it a little smoother," said Selectman Doug Belanger, who serves on the committee. "The mission of the Economic Development Committee is to have businesses that give more than they take, and so in essence solar is one of the easiest thing to make a decision on."
Since the voters approved of the changes, solar farm developers have continued to express interest in building large-scale photovoltaic installations in town, and in addition to the Hanover solar farm off Stafford Street, a new, larger development on Auburn Street was approved by the planning board in May.
The new project consists of the installation of a 6.0 MWdc ground-mounted solar photovoltaic energy facility on a 55.84-acre lot located at 390 Auburn St., which was formerly cleared for the Laurel Ridge Estates.
The installation consists of 34 acres of solar panels and associated features in a single fenced area. The array areas will be serviced and accessed via new 12-foot gravel service drives.
Though still new territory for Leicester, the solar farms have been welcomed by elected officials as low-impact, revenue-generating businesses within the community.
"I think it provides economic development for the town, especially in a time like this when you're seeing very little other development," said Town Administrator Robert Reed. "There's plenty of land available, and this could be a form of new growth."
Reed said many communities have been welcoming these types of developments, which are similar to office parks in that they are also a clean industry.
The solar power farms also are generating new opportunities for towns, but given the unfamiliarity with the new field, towns have been trying to navigate the range of offers that each developer is bringing to the table.
"They're not comparable offers that you're getting sometimes," said Reed. "Some are offering you a percentage of their savings, some are offering you a different plan. So you start with the fact that you're not too familiar with this to begin with and then you're getting apples and oranges," said Reed.
Though Reed said it was still important to be cautious in order to avoid locking into a proposal "if it isn't the best deal a town can get," looking forward, Reed said that it was hard to see a downside in these projects.
"We've had good experiences with Solar," he added. "The last time I looked at the numbers it seemed like the panels that were installed at the school and police station were performing better than what we expected."