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Neighbors protest solar farm plan

One of the largest solar farms in New England is operating in Canton. The 5.6-megawatt facility includes nearly 20,000 solar panels on 15.5 acres on the town’s capped landfill site.

Southern Sky Renewable Energy

One of the largest solar farms in New England is operating in Canton. The 5.6-megawatt facility includes nearly 20,000 solar panels on 15.5 acres on the town’s capped landfill site.

A $10 million solar farm project proposed for West Bridgewater by Joseph P. Kennedy II’s energy nonprofit agency is being opposed by a group of residents who live near the intended site.

Branding the solar project as “ugly” and “blight” in a written statement given to the town’s Board of Selectmen this month, members of the newly formed East Street Neighborhood Association expressed concern that the project would devalue their properties, and possibly present health risks from the installation and use of the solar panels.

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In response to concerns raised by the group, town officials will now look into imposing a moratorium on future ground solar installations until local zoning bylaws are amended to restrict such developments to areas that will least impact the welfare of residents and the town’s historic character.

Boston-based Citizens Energy Corp., best known for its discounted heating oil-delivery program, has proposed construction of a 3.3-megawatt solar installation on a private 50 acre parcel of farmland on East Street.

The project, presented to the town late last year, would be Citizens Energy’s largest solar farm in the state, with enough energy to power 500 homes, said Brian Morrissey, the company’s director of solar development. It would also be Citizens’ first development south of Boston.

Depending on the size of the ground-mounted photovoltaic panels, Citizens plans to install about 13,000 of them on 20 acres and hopes to have them running by year’s end, Morrissey said. The energy would be sold to National Grid, and the solar farm would also bring the town more than $1 million in property tax revenue over 20 years.

He said that since the group aired its concerns, company representatives have met with some members as recently as Tuesday to address the issues. Although he would not elaborate on the scope of the discussion, Morrissey indicated that Citizens Energy will make some changes to the project.

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“For the folks we’ve talked to so far, the one-on-ones, they’ll tell you what’s really bothering them and we try to figure out a way to fix that,” Morrissey said. “We want to be very transparent with all the neighbors and hear what their concerns are.”

Some who live next to the property, including a lawyer who signed the petition, did not return calls for comment.

A Planning Board hearing is scheduled for Wednesday to address the proposed project’s proximity to some of the town’s water wells, said Elizabeth D. Faricy, the town’s administrator. A Zoning Board of Appeals hearing on the project’s special permit is scheduled for April 2.

The integrity of the town’s water system is among the concerns outlined by the group to the selectmen, arguing that potentially toxic components of the solar equipment could leak. Having gathered 100 signatures from people opposing the project, the group petitioned selectmen to take action to block it. It also suggested that officials add a provision to the town bylaws preventing construction of solar farms in rural or residentially zoned areas.

In their written statement, group members cited a state law that prohibits communities from unreasonably rejecting the installation of solar energy systems, except when public health, safety, or welfare are threatened.

They argued this project poses a threat to the well-being of residents, “including their financial security and their right to fully enjoy the property they own, without suffering such devastating destruction of the peace, beauty, and harmony of their neighborhood.”

According to Morrissey, the solar panels that Citizens Energy would use on the site are silicon- based and contain no hazardous chemicals that would threaten the water supply.

“These things are very safe; you see them in people’s homes and in businesses where people live and work 24 hours a day,” he said. “We think this is an important project for the town, not just in terms of tax benefits, but for the country in terms of clean, renewable energy. . . . We understand that people might not be excited of being neighbors to this, but we’re doing our best to address those concerns.

The East Street property is on a water resource protection area, close to four wells, said Richard Krugger, Water Department superintendent. However, he said the wells are, “way on the other side” of where the proposed solar panels would be located. Still, solar installations are an allowable use in such protection areas because they are not considered a toxic use, he added.

Selectmen are also looking into the potential purchase of the property, Faricy said. The land is currently classified for agricultural use, allowing it to be taxed at a lesser rate, she said. In order for it to be used as a solar farm, the land use classification would have to change, and by law, the owners, a local family, must offer the land for purchase to the town first, she added.

Such an offer, however, would not come until after approvals have been issued by planning and zoning officials, Faricy said, adding that she expects the owners to come before selectmen to ask that they waive their right of first refusal on the site.

Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.

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