WESTBOROUGH, Mass. – Jim Harvey said on Monday that when he was in seventh grade, he did a project with photovoltaics at a science fair. Now, as the owner of Harvey's Farm in Westborough, his goal is to use the solar panel technology to help his farm remain viable and generate income for the future.
"Just as the tractors took over from the horse, this is a progression," said Harvey, who plans to experiment with plants that can grow in dim light under and between the panels with the help of his daughter, Emily. "We still want to farm the land ... I want it to remain a farm, but with solar panels."
The only problems fall with zoning and poor public perception.
When most Westborough residents imagine solar panels, they picture the solar farm on Fisher Street, said Harvey. This farm would be naturally hidden from view by the surrounding landscape.
Harvey's Farm has not yet been able to gain the go-ahead from town officials, which project manager Charles Jenkins said is a process six months in the making.
"This is a practical lab to discover what a farm of the future is going to be like," said Jenkins. "There are really no by-laws set for these projects at this point."
The group brought its case to Westborough's Zoning Board of Appeals Monday night, and the board voted to table the discussion until Oct. 1 at 8 p.m. to allow the members a chance to look at the site in question. McGuire said the issue comes down to time, as all solar projects must be completed by Dec. 31 in order to receive the government incentives associated with the Massachusetts Green Energy plans.
The field will be placed on Harvey's least productive land, will generate 3 megawatts per year, and cost roughly $10 million, Harvey said. The average U.S. household uses just under 12,000 kilowatt hours per year (one megawatt is equal to 1,000 kilowatt hours), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The system would allow the excess energy to be sold back to the power grid, with the potential to save the town – or whoever chose to purchase the energy – a certain amount depending on the crediting system. No price ranges for the town or any other party have been discussed at this point, McGuire said.
Those in attendance at the meeting who elected to voice their opinions were unanimously for the project.
"I'm all for it," said Mary Walker, who owns 35 acres in Westborough.
The board members said they were hesitant due to the fact that the property is zoned as residential.
"It's essentially an industrial use within a residential zone," said zoning board member Jim Johnson.
After the decision, Jenkins said he was confident they could complete the project before the end of the year as long as the decision for the variance and building permits could be obtained by mid-October. If the process takes any longer the project may not be completed in time, he said.