Solar company eyes Torrington landfill property for new array
TORRINGTON — Just a few weeks after the City Council heard a pitch from a solar array company to use 66 acres on East Pearl Road, a second company has come forward with another proposal.
US Solar, whose new markets manager, Peter Schmitt, met on Zoom with council members, is eyeing the city’s landfill site on Vista Road.
“We are proposing a solar development on the landfill,” Schmitt said. “We think it provides a good opportunity to use something that’s well-tucked away. My understanding is that Torrington was approached before, but not for this site.”
The council this week approved having Mayor Elinor Carbone sign “a non-binding letter of intent, which would be in place for 60 days, contingent to enter into a lease agreement for the landfill property, subject to a public hearing, that is required by law,” the mayor said in her motion.
The public hearing to discuss the lease option and solar plan with US Solar will be held on July 20, before the City Council’s next regular meeting.
Schmitt said that US Solar sells energy from its solar sites directly to Eversource, and establishes a long-term lease with the property owner, paying rent in exchange for using the land. In Torrington’s case, US Solar is seeking a 20-year lease.
US Solar is also looking at property in Shelton; much of its holdings are in Minnesota, but the company is expanding its reach into Connecticut, Schmitt said.
“I’ve been in conversations with the mayor (Elinor Carbone) and (Corporation Counsel Vic) Muschell, and what we’re doing requires a public hearing,” Schmitt said.
He said the hope was to secure a letter of intent with Torrington.
“Our preference is to have terms in place for the lease ... the letter of intent allows us to go to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, to show we’re on the right trajectory,” Schmitt said.
The first proposal was made by Verogy, which wants to install a field of solar panels on property on Pearl Road. That company made its presentation in June. Verogy, a Hartford-based firm that works with the solar energy industry, hopes to put an array of solar panels on 11 acres of a 66-acre property at 236 E. Pearl Road, across from the St. Peter Cemetery and near Bishop Donnelly Field. A total of 7,150 panels would be installed on the 11 acres.
One of the advantages of using US Solar, Schmitt said, is that the company uses “pollinator friendly habitats,” meaning it plants sites with vegetation that attracts bees and other insects.
“Landfills can present a bit of a challenge, but using a pollinator friendly habitat makes us very environmentally focused,” he said. “In Minnesota, where we have many sites, we do the same thing ... and because we operate our sites long term, it encourages us to build a higher quality project. You can always pick up the phone and talk to us.
“What we’re looking at is a 20-year lease on 15 acres,” Schmitt said. “We’d be applying through the state, and would cover all the required permits. What we ask for in return is a signed lease to complete our applications. All costs and work would be covered by US Solar. It’s a clean and easy transaction.”
Council member Ann Ruwet, whose family owns a farm on East Pearl Road, said she was “all for it.” Ruwet had expressed her opposition to the Verogy plan last month, saying it wasn’t the right fit for the area, which is residential but has farmland.
“This is very timely, because Verogy is looking at open space. We’ve wanted to see use of the landfill,” she said. “A 20-year lease is appealing.”
Council member Paul Cavagnero asked whether having two companies applying to the siting council at the same time would be problematic for the city. He and Ruwet asked if US Solar had communicated with the siting council.
“We haven’t presented anything to them yet, but we’ve worked with them in the past,” Schmitt said. “Our application shouldn’t be problematic for the siting council, because our project is very different from the one Verogy is proposing.”
“How can we find that out ... so many on the City Council are so much more in favor of (a solar plan for the landfill),” Cavagnero asked.
Carbone said she would contact the siting council. “These types of projects don’t go to them for approval until the end of the process,” she said. “The (applying companies) have to do the local work first. But I will reach out to them to ask if it would be disfavorable to have two applications going at the same time.”
“When you have a conversation with the siting council, let them know it’s a different application from Verogy,” Ruwet said. “Indicate to them that we’re interested in a solar option, but we’re just opposed to the location of the (Verogy) proposal.”
Verogy is in the process of gaining local approval for its proposed solar array before it applies for permits from the Connecticut Siting Council. In Verogy’s case, the plans have already been presented to the public through its website, www.verogy.com/torrington-solar-one, where residents can see the entire project.
During its presentation to the council, Verogy’s development director, Brian Fitzgerald, ran through details of the proposal, saying the array would not be visible from the road because it would be installed on the interior of the 66 acres and would be surrounded by trees, planted to create a screening effect. The merits of having a solar array, Fitzgerald said, include tax revenue for the city, clean energy for Eversource, and ultimately some savings for the community.
During that meeting, council members asked if Verogy would consider the landfill for its solar array. Verogy said it had not, and that the East Pearl Road site was a better fit.