About 280 acres of undeveloped land in Simsbury were sold this week to make way for construction of the “Tobacco Valley Solar Farm.” Once built, it will be one of the largest solar arrays in New England, but the project has been controversial since its origins in 2016.
“This is a project that, I think, at the beginning, had our residents quite split,” said Eric Wellman, Simsbury’s first selectman. “I’ve gotten phone calls from people who are very concerned that this is coming. And I’ve also gotten phone calls from people who are very excited.”
Over months of debate and public meetings, residents complained the 26-megawatt project would change the character of Simsbury’s rural landscape. Residents and the state Department of Agriculture raised concerns about putting solar panels on farmland. And eventually, Simsbury sued to block development.
But last month, the town withdrew its case.
Wellman said Simsbury did that because the town recently reached a settlement with the developer, Deepwater Wind. That settlement includes water testing, a detailed decommissioning plan due when the project wraps up in about two decades, and visual screening.
“Key pieces of the settlement included them getting rid of what was known as ‘Parcel 5,’ which would have been the most visible parcel to both homeowners and cars driving by,” Wellman said. “We also have the right to purchase the property once it’s been decommissioned ... for a nominal fee, something like a dollar.”
Wellman estimates the town incurred legal fees of around $200,000 negotiating the project.
He said Deepwater already paid building permit fees of around $600,000 to Simsbury and that over the next two decades, the solar array will bring in about $500,000 in tax revenue annually.
“I see this largely as free money to the town to help reduce the property tax burden for our residents,” Wellman said.
A spokesperson for Tobacco Valley Solar said construction is slated to begin on the site this spring with the project fully built by the end of the year.