SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 14, 2013

Solar farm could power nearly 500 homes

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — A businessman is hoping to build what would be the area’s largest solar farm on privately owned land off Route 97 in North Beverly.

The farm would feature 8,000 solar panels on 8 acres of grassy land next to Birch Plains Park, between Beverly Municipal Airport and Wenham Lake near the Wenham line.

The land’s owner, Stanley Bialek, said the panels would produce 2 megawatts of energy, enough to power close to 500 homes, 20 times the amount produced by the solar panels next to Beverly High School.

Bialek estimated the cost of the project at $6 million.

“I think we’ve got a good plan,” he said.

Bialek, who lives in Gloucester, has owned the land since 1997. He proposed building an elderly housing complex on the site in 2003 but did not get city approval.

The plan for the solar farm was unanimously approved in November by the Beverly Conservation Commission. The panels would be located a half-mile from Wenham Lake, the city’s drinking water supply, but the commission said it would not negatively affect the water supply.

The commission, in fact, said the project would benefit the area because it requires the removal of invasive species and the planting of native plants.

Bialek said the new trees would be more efficient at eliminating carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than the trees they will be replacing.

“It’s a very clean, benign, passive use,” he said.

Bialek said he would like to sell power produced by the solar farm to the city of Beverly. He said selling to municipalities is the most cost-effective because solar producers receive a “significant” discount on transmission costs if they are selling to cities and towns.

“We do have a good-sized market that’s on this branch of the New England power grid,” he said. “Any city or town is eligible, but, of course, we hope it’s Beverly because they’re right here.”

Mayor Bill Scanlon said the city has not been approached by Bialek about becoming a customer, “but we are certainly willing to have such discussions.”

As for the solar farm project itself, Scanlon said, “It’s not particularly invasive, and we certainly are very much in favor of the proliferation of solar.”

Bialek’s property is 60 acres, but the solar farm would only occupy 8 acres, he said. The panels would be mounted in sloping field and would range in height from 2 to 9 feet. There would be 20 panels each on 400 racks, for a total of 8,000.

Bialek said the panels would be located toward the middle of the wooded property and would not be visible from Route 97. It would be surrounded by a “wildlife-friendly” security fence.

Bialek said he would apply for federal tax credits and state energy credits that are available for solar projects.

The project must still be approved locally by the city’s Planning Board, which has a public hearing scheduled tomorrow. Bialek said he continues to seek financial backing and also needs approval to hook up to nearby power lines.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.