Mattapoisett rides ‘wave’ of solar innovation

Sippican Week

By Austin Adams | Jul 02, 2014

Photo by: Georgia Sparling
BlueWave Capital has invested in two separate solar farms in Mattapoisett.

MATTAPOISETT — Two solar energy projects have crashed into Mattapoisett in as many years courtesy of the Boston-based solar energy development company BlueWave Capital.

The projects demonstrate that the town is a hot spot for the rapidly expanding solar industry, which has set up similar projects elsewhere in the tri-town and throughout the South Coast.

Locally, BlueWave Capital has set in motion plans to build a new solar farm in addition to the nearly operational array on Tinkham Hill Road.

The new project will be located on Crystal Springs Road next to an electricity substation, which is part of what makes the site so ideal for BlueWave .

“We think it’s a great site,” said BlueWave Managing Director and Project Manager Aidan Foley.

BlueWave’s expansion in Massachusetts underlines a growing trend in the Commonwealth over the past few years.

In 2007, Massachusetts supported three megawatts of solar capacity, a number that has since grown to well over 500 megawatts.

Foley says that Massachusetts’ energy policy is “wonderful” due to the 2008 Green Communities Act that allows communities to meet criteria and become certified as a “Green Community.” The designation entitles them to certain government grants.

BlueWave also operates a completed solar farm in Rochester and about a dozen others throughout Massachusetts, according to Foley. They are also working on projects in the Bahamas and South Africa.

The new project will cover roughly 28 acres and generate about six megawatts of power. Once connected to the power grid, that number will be reduced to just under five megawatts. According to Foley, this is enough electricity to power around 10,000 homes. By comparison, the Tinkham Hill farm will produce just over three megawatts of power.

“It’s a sizeable venture, to say the least,” said Mattapoisett Building Inspector Andy Bobola, who has been involved in the extensive pre-construction process for both projects.

He added that the process for the new array has been and will continue to be easier for all involved, as issues that arose last time are being taken care of early.

“They’re being proactive,” said Bobola. “They’ve already had two different public meetings with the abutters.”

These meetings were BlueWave’s answer to the drawn-out Zoning Board of Appeals process that took place over the last solar array. Foley hopes that this time most of the concerns of abutters will be taken care of before the ZBA meeting. If all goes well for BlueWave, construction could begin later this year or the following spring.

Neighbors “usually are a little apprehensive,” said Foley. “They’ve lived here for a long time and suddenly there’s a project being proposed. We try to spend time with the residents and try to explain as much as possible about what will be involved.”

Patricia Aiello lives on Tinkham Hill Road near the original development. At a January Selectmen meeting on the Tinkham Hill array, she expressed concerns about the construction but did say that she anticipated BlueWave would be a “good neighbor.” Now that construction is nearly complete, Aiello’s view is unchanged.

“I’ve had no trouble at all with it,” said Aiello of the array. “They’re very polite people, very kind. I cannot say the company did anything to impact me.”

Foley said that neighbors blocking construction totally would be very unusual. The neighborhood meetings are primarily used as a vehicle for BlueWave to offer alternative construction plans to concerned abutters.

In the case of the Crystal Springs project, BlueWave agreed to limit the construction hours, screen the project from view and not work on holidays. Foley indicated that these types of concessions are typical.

One major concern with a new development of this type is the adverse impact it will have on the environment in the immediate vicinity.

According to Foley, these concerns have been addressed through work with the Conservation Commission in Mattapoisett. The property’s fence will have six inches of clearance to allow the free movement of wildlife.

In terms of its impact on the community as a whole, Foley says the facility will not be a significant burden to the town and will actually provide a range of benefits.

“It wouldn’t be unusual for a project of this size over twenty years to pay several hundred thousand or even a million dollars in property taxes,” he said.

Additionally, the project may be a source of work for many locals.

“We’ll make every effort to hire local contractors to work on the project,” said Foley.

So will Mattapoisett residents begin to see their electricity bills magically drop in the coming months and years? Not quite. Just because the facilities are located in town doesn’t mean that the electricity stays local.

According to BlueWave representative Zachary Patten, the recipients (or off-takers) of the Crystal Spring power will be the housing authority in Plymouth and the Mass Maritime Academy.

“Our projects generate a lot of benefits for the Commonwealth and we love developing beneficial projects where we live,” he said.

Overall, Bobola says the process has been positive so far.

“They’ve been very responsive, not only to my department but the neighbors as well,” he said. “I really have nothing to complain about.” For now at least, everyone is just riding the (blue) waves.

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