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A Massive - And Controversial - Simsbury Solar Project Is Now Operational

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After years of debate, a solar array spread over more than 130 acres in Simsbury is operational and producing power. Representatives for the Tobacco Valley Solar Farm notified the state Siting Council in a letter Tuesday. 

“The Tobacco Valley Solar project has reached its commercial operation date and will begin generating electricity at this time,” attorney Lee Hoffman, who represents the developer, wrote in the letter.”

“It is producing about 26 megawatts of energy a year, which is enough to power the equivalent of 5,000 houses,” Simsbury First Selectman Eric Wellman told Connecticut Public Radio. “It’s about 100,000 solar panels, so it’s pretty impressive.”

Because of its size -- it’s one of the largest solar projects in New England -- the Tobacco Valley project has sparked controversy since its origins in 2016.

Simsbury residents complained it would change the town’s rural landscape. Informational sessions were held, and concerned residents, along with neighbors of the project, showed up at Board of Selectmen meetings to voice opposition. Eventually, the town sued to block development.

But shortly after, Simsbury withdrew its case, spending about $200,000 in legal fees to renegotiate the project. 

Those talks led developers to scale back the project’s original scope from nearly 300 acres to its current size. Project managers also agreed to water testing, visual screening, and a decommissioning plan.

“It’s a much better project,” Wellman said. “Over the life of the project, we expect it will average about $600,000 a year [in taxes], which makes Tobacco Valley Solar one of our town’s largest taxpayers.” 

Wellman said that money could help mitigate future tax increases.

Construction took place throughout 2019, winding down in the fall. 

“There are still certain steps that need to be finalized before the project will be fully completed,” Hoffman wrote in his Tuesday letter. “These steps, however, are expected to [be] minor activities that will not fundamentally affect the project. For example, additional plantings are expected to be made in the spring, when the growing season begins.”

Wellman said the solar array is expected to operate for at least the next two decades. Once it’s decommissioned, the land would be offered for sale back to the town at the price of $1.

“I think it’s a phenomenal thing that our town will at least have the opportunity to own this open space,” Wellman said.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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