Archive 2008 - 2019

ZBA Continues Solar Farm Hearing to Explore Hardship

by Nancy Farrell

The Town of Holliston Zoning Board of Appeals decided to continue the hearing on the change of use variance requested by BlueWave Capital. The property, 367 Hollis Street, at the corner of Hollis and Highland Street is currently zoned for agricultural and residential use.

Rob Truax of GLM Engineering presented the conceptual plans for a two megawatt AC solar energy producing facility at the site. The plan is to situate the solar panels over 15 acres of the 41 acres to be leased by the company.  After a recent meeting with residents, this area was reconfigured to address problems discussed at the meeting.

Anne Reitmayer of BlueWave Capital described BlueWave Capital as a for profit, mission driven venture that takes a responsible role in the development of renewable energy. BlueWave developed a solar farm on Chestnut Street that has been successful. She talked about the advantages of the topography at the Finn farm -- its southern facing slope and how the 20 year ground lease of the property would help sustain the farm. If not for this project, Joe Finn would have to sell the farm. These two issues are the basis of the request for a change of use variance -- topography and hardship.

Reitmayer stressed the environmental benefits of reducing the amount of hazardous emissions and said that "we are prepared to do it in a responsible way."  Still, fifteen acres of trees would be clear cut, Aidan Foley of BlueWave answered Chairman Henry Dellicker's question and gave it follow up -- did it need to be a two megawatt facility, saying that the larger facility made more sense financially. Chairman Dellicker said that the big question is whether we should allow a commercial business in the middle of a residential area.  Aidan Foley pointed out the benefits to the town in tax revenues. He addressed the hardship issue describing the financial stresses of running a farm and the low return on the work of farming.  The solar generated electricity will be sold retail in the Greater Boston area. BlueWave would promote the package to Holliston residents prior to these sales. The solar-generated electricity would cost about 20% less than Eversource kilowatt rates.

Other concerns, raised by the Board and the packed audience, concerned impact on local wildlife, noise, visibility, groundwater impact, access and traffic and what happens when it's over. The chain link fence around the 41-acre site came up several times. But ultimately, the discussion returned to the question of hardship. Peter Barbieri, attending as town resident and attorney, pointed out the the burden of proof of hardship rested with the petitioners, that it was up to them to prove that there are no alternative opportunities to resolve the issue of hardship.  Countering Aidan Foley's disparaging view of farming, Barbieri said that Holliston is an agricultural community, there are thriving farms all over town and indeed the town had recently purchased a farm. Because this farmer is not using the land, it doesn't mean that it can't be farmed. Foley expressed his wish to continue the dialogue to resolve the issues.

Town resident Ellen George asked the question of the evening -- how much money does the family expect to receive for the lease of the property.  Aidan Foley answered that the lease rate is $20,000 annually per megawatt, so this lease would be a flat rate payment of between $20,000 - 40,000 for the term of the 20-30 year lease.

The Board continued the hearing until September 21, 2015 with interim hearings on August 19 and possibly, September 16. The Board asked BlueWave Capital to provide possible alternatives to the hardship issue and more definitive plans for the project.


Comments (3)

A solar"farm" is another name for a 15 acre (!) ugly industrial site in the middle of a pastoral, residential area. Is this how we want Holliston to look like? We have already had a bad experience with a solar company that abuts the rail trail. We don't need any more "benefits" from the solar industry.

Chryso | 2015-06-26 19:13:20

If the Finns are struggling to hold onto the farm for the next 20 years, 20 or 40,000 dollars will not help. What happens if they fold in the next 10 years? What becomes of the solar farm?

paul | 2015-06-19 05:43:22

I don't understand why it is relevant as to how much the family expects to receive. I hope they make a fortune off of THEIR property. Not sure I understand why that is the "question of the evening".

Bob | 2015-06-18 13:59:04