Hydrologist says Fearing Hill solar impact would be minimal

Jul 12, 2022

The Planning Board discussed the proposed solar array on Fearing Hill and a recent hydrology report during its meeting on July 7.

The proposed solar farm has been controversial since it first appeared before the town’s permitting boards more than a year ago.

One of the chief concerns residents have raised is the effect of clearing the forested land on surrounding homes — many of whom use their own well water and are bedeviled by flooded basements. Neal Price, the hydrologist hired by the applicant and the town researched the project’s potential effects, which he says would be minimal, and documented his findings in an extensive report

Fearing Hill is largely composed of glacial till — sediment deposited by glaciers — that doesn’t do a good job retaining water. Whenever land is cleared of trees, that can increase runoff as the plants and roots that sucked up water are removed.

Both the hydrologist and resident Annie Hayes individually expressed some concerns about the process of fostering a meadow environment under and around the solar panels once they’re installed. One side of the hill tends to dry out, and if not kept moist, the seeds or seedlings might get washed away in a heavy rain.

Overall, however, Price said that he thinks the project’s impact will be fairly minimal — especially as the company has adjusted its plans in response to his report. The applicant has decreased the number of solar panels to make room for larger retention basins, which are intended to catch most of the runoff. That should bring the increase in runoff down from his initial estimate of 7.5%, Price said.

Without those changes being made, Price said, the home most affected would see its groundwater level increase by ¾ of an inch. Design tweaks should reduce that further, he said.

Price also said that he doesn’t anticipate the project would pollute the groundwater.

Project representative Joseph Shanahan spoke briefly at the top of the meeting, saying he’d looked into concerns about endangered species and cultural history in the area, and found nothing of note.