LEE — Neighbors seem lukewarm to potential changes aimed at easing the environmental and aesthetic impact of a privately run solar energy project expected to save Lee and Lenox taxpayers a combined $1 million over the next two decades.
Contrary to residents' fears, the developer, Greenwood Energy Solar Holdings, isn't clear-cutting trees on the south facing hillside of the proposed site — a capped landfill of paper mill waste — off Willow Hill Road.
"We won't be going willy-nilly with cutting," said Steve Campbell, Greenwood's director of construction.
Campbell also told the concerned citizens gathered at the Lee Conservation Commission meeting last week the scope of logging is confined to the southernmost and smallest array of panels — one of three planned for the site. He noted some of the panels in that particular array will be placed elsewhere on the property to lessen the amount of site work in that area sensitive to the neighborhood.
The developer said stumps and roots in the tree-cutting area will remain, with grass seed and low-growth shrubs planted — all to prevent erosion.
Greenwood Energy, an international company that has an office in Framingham, is leasing the former landfill owned by Schweitzer-Mauduit International and plans to install a 2.6 megawatt solar array. Pending local building permit approval, Greenwood expects to begin construction by the end of this month.
While the Conservation Commission last fall determined the project didn't involve wetlands issues, members last week said they, along with several other town boards, still are required to sign off on the building permit.
Once the solar array is operational, Lee will take 80 percent of the solar power generated, Lenox the remaining 20 percent, according to municipal officials from both communities.
Lee, entirely served by Eversource, would save between $478,000 and $525,000 over the 20-year period on the electricity used to power the town's two public school buildings, water and wastewater treatment plants and other municipal facilities.
In Lenox, the wastewater treatment plant on Crystal Street in Lenox Dale and the water treatment facility at the town reservoir will yield a total savings of $131,162 during the same time period. The savings for both communities is based on last summer's projections.
Two weeks ago, homeowners in the shadow of the project worried work on the hillside could lead the earthen slope collapsing into some of their backyards. They also felt undocumented wetlands would be affected.
Campbell assured residents his company will work with them to minimize the project's environmental impact.
"If there's a potential wetland discrepancy, we want to stay outside the area," he said.
Based on Campbell's presentation, former Lee Planning Board member David Durante felt the changes were enough to send it back to the board for additional review and approval. The planners voted in favor of the site plan in November.
The developer said the revisions aren't significant enough to warrant a second planning board review
While the scope of work seems to benefit the neighbors, several felt the project wasn't worth the savings to taxpayers and visually would be a detriment to homeowners.
"Cutting of the trees facing my property devalues my property," said Mark Petell, of Sunshine Avenue.
Neighbors also worry about leachate from the capped landfill percolating to the surface.
"We have a brook with colors and toxins and no one seems to care," said Jim Castegnaro, a former paper mill employee familiar with such waste dumped on the property.
The Lee Conservation Commission pointed out owner Schweitzer-Mauduit — not the solar project developer — is responsible for monitoring and regularly testing the capped landfill, but it promised to ask the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to investigate the apparent leaching.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.