An example of clear-cutting to build a solar field.

As residents of Hamden, we heartily support solar projects to meet the demand for electricity. Such projects reduce our dependence on burning dirty fossil fuels to get electricity, a method that produces the excessive carbon dioxide (CO2) driving global warming. Much better to get clean and renewable energy from solar panels!

However, we must oppose PETITION NO. 1425 made to the Connecticut Siting Council by Distributed Solar Development (DSD), a solar-energy offshoot of General Electric and Blackrock based in Schenectady, N.Y on behalf of their clients, the CSCU (Connecticut State Colleges & Universities). We applaud CSCU’s desire to buy solar energy; however this particular project has a major flaw. It entails clear cutting 12 acres of trees in a forest!

As we all know, forests sequester carbon and mitigate the growing effects of climate change. The September 2020 report from the Governor’s Council on Climate Change (GC3) Forests Subgroup presents as a top priority the adoption of a state policy of “no net loss” of forest. “KEEP FOREST AS FORESTS.” Regarding this proposed facility, the Hamden Tree Commission writes: “This proposal to clear cut and chip over 12 acres of mature, mesic hardwood forest that is on steep slopes and contains wetlands will have substantial adverse permanent environmental impacts.”

The steep slope, with some areas exceeding 25% slope, invites erosion. According to the Regional Water Authority letter to the Siting Council, the soil types at this site are “highly erosive.” DSD’s environmental report suggests that the developers can easily control erosion and storm water on site. But the DSD has yet to provide, as of November 12, a full set of storm water runoff models required by Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

The Gaylord Mountain proposal layout.

The value of forest ecosystem services must also be considered. A forest is not just a bunch of trees but a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment. One of the most important ecosystem services provided by a forest is the protection of drinking water supplies. The forest and its wetlands filter runoff that helps clean the water we drink. This solar project is in a drinking water supply watershed: the watershed of Eaton Brook which flows to the Mill River, which flows downstream to the Lake Whitney reservoir. This reservoir is an active drinking water source for the South Connecticut Regional Water Authority (RWA) customers.

The best way to protect drinking water is to protect forests. The environmental report for this solar project does not even mention what watershed the project is located in or that it is in a source water protection area. This is a huge omission! As the RWA writes in its testimony “This Solar Project will result in an irretrievable loss of forestland that protects the affected RWA sources of supply in the Mill River watershed.” In addition, the Hamden Tree Commission testimony addresses countless other ecosystem services and makes the point that “this parcel is a critical component of a forested corridor that connects the Naugatuck State Forest and adjacent Regional Water Authority watershed with Sleeping Giant State Park and Mill River Watershed.”

The entire discussion in the public session on November 17 focused on how to get approval for what the project representatives  repeatedly called a “challenging site.” This “challenging site” is, in fact, an inappropriate site for a solar facility which will result in the destruction of 12 acres of trees!  The Q and A session ignored the importance and value of the benefits of the trees being removed, and the goals of the local and state community in the face of an existing and growing climate crisis.

As of the November 17 public hearing, DSD had not contacted Hamden emergency responders for their thoughts on potential challenges they might have to face given a solar facility at this location. We learned that if Hamden’s first responders couldn’t deal with a problem, DSD personnel would have to travel from New York to Hamden to address it. This demonstrates a serious failure to appreciate the reality of extreme weather events we are now experiencing and the need to think about potential emergency events and plan for them as has been the focus of the GC3 working groups.

We call upon the Siting Council to require the petitioner to find a more appropriate location for this facility. Such alternative locations exist in Hamden that would be supported by the community and would not threaten nature’s primary ally in the fight against climate change – – our trees. This should not be a choice between forests and solar. We need them both.

So, for local, state-wide and indeed global reasons we oppose this particular solar project, and call upon the Siting Council to reject the petitioner’s request. You, as a concerned citizen, can still write in opposition to the construction of this solar facility in a forest  to the CT Siting Council by December 15  and to your Connecticut legislators in support of a State “No Net Loss” of forest policy.

Elizabeth L. Langhorne and Diane Hoffman live in Hamden.

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