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P&Z Approves Solar/Electric Array For Health Care Complex



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On June 20, following a second public hearing, Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) members unanimously approved the installation of a solar/electric array at a 139 Toddy Hill Road healthcare facility, a project that is expected to produce a large majority of the electricity that the complex uses.

Voting in favor of modifying an existing special zoning permit for the project were P&Z Chairman Don Mitchell, Jim Swift, Corinne Cox, Barbara Manville, and Roy Meadows. The approval takes effect on July 13.

The planned array of more than 2,200 solar panels will provide power for Newtown Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, which is a nursing home, as well as the adjacent The Commons At Newtown, which is an assisted living complex. Athena Health Care Systems operates the facilities.

Masonicare at Newtown formerly owned the complex, operating a nursing home there, as well as the assisted living facility, which was then known as Lockwood Lodge. The Masonicare operation was licensed for 154 skilled nursing beds and 55 assisted living apartments.

The P&Z held an initial public hearing on the project on June 6 from applicant Centrica Business Solutions of Iselin, N.J. Many of the questions raised at the June 6 hearing came from people who live near the site concerned about whether the solar array would be visible from their homes.

In response, on June 20, engineer Brian Baker, of Civil 1, which is a Woodbury civil engineering firm representing the applicant, presented to the P&Z multiple cross-sectional drawings illustrating that the planned solar array would not be visible from residences in the area. The solar panels, which would be tilted toward the sky, would range in height from two-feet to eight-feet above the ground, he said.

Ron Lewis of Centrica told P&Z members that to make way for solar panel installation, trees would be felled, but their stumps would remain in place. Control-cutting, intended to limit plant growth at the solar array site, would be done twice during each summer, Mr Baker said.

After the unanimous P&Z vote, Ms Manville commented that its is good that alternative energy production will be occurring in Newtown.

The healthcare complex’s solar/electric project would be the largest such facility on private land locally.

The town’s largest solar power installation, which started operation in 2018, is located at the closed municipal landfill off Ethan Allen Road. That array contains 4,266 solar panels. Electricity produced at that facility is sold to Eversource to reduce the municipality’s electric bill.

The solar panels would be installed in a rocky, sloped area at the site, which is currently wooded land. The solar array would be fenced and would occupy about four acres. Trees would be removed from about six acres to make way for the solar panels, providing suitable sun exposure. Trees in the area range from about 65 to 100 feet tall. The site is about 43 acres overall.

The planned solar/electric array would provide about 85 to 90 percent of the healthcare complex’s electricity requirements. The remainder of the facility’s power needs would be supplied by the Eversource power grid.

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