Rochester NH: Solar and blueberry farm proposed – Foster's Daily Democrat

ROCHESTER — City businessman Packy Campbell is looking to bring a blueberry and solar farm to the city, saying it would benefit the Rochester School District.
Campbell’s application for GHN Solar on Shaw Drive received conditional approval from the city Planning Board and now heads to the Conservation Commission and eventually to the City Council seeking approvals. A Zoning Board of Adjustment variance has been granted to allow it to be used as a 1 megawatt power-generating utility.
The property is 27.6 acres off Shaw Drive, according to Campbell. He said there will be 60 solar trackers, guiding solar panels toward the sun. The trackers have light sensors on each side.
“The entire project covers about 10 acres,” Campbell said. “Think of it as an eight-acre blueberry farm, with solar panels above it. Each tracker has a 48-panel unit, providing 1 megawatt of power in total.”
Campbell said the state allows for customer generation of solar power. He noted Rochester is working on, but does not yet have a solar ordinance, although it is an allowed use in the city on a case-by-case basis.
“I am trying to encourage everyone to embrace the think globally and act locally ideology,” he said.
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Initially, Rochester’s Planning Board members chose not to accept the application, preferring to see it go through the city’s Conservation Commission first. Campbell explained the project and told board members he was willing to meet any requirements of the Conservation Commission and that waiting would delay the project until spring.
“Winter is coming and electric rates are going up quickly,” said Campbell. “I am asking you accept the application tonight so I can start doing some work on the site before the ground freezes. It would be a significant delay for this project.”
Campbell, who said he would earn a percentage of profit from energy credits, said his project will save the school district, and in effect, the city, about $36,000 a year in utility costs, about 7% of the schools’ electricity budget. He said he has not told school district officials yet as the project doesn’t have the full green light to proceed.
Reached by phone, Superintendent Kyle Repucci said he had not heard anything about the project or what benefit it might have for the school district.
Campbell said the city school district is a member of Standard Power of America, a Nashua utility broker, and those lines will receive some of the solar power from his project, so the cost to supply energy to the school district will be reduced, with the savings passed on to the district.
“Solar trackers are an advanced technology,” said Campbell. “The ones I will use can generate power from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., every single day because they have batteries and storage.”
A 135-foot easement on the property belongs to Eversource, the state’s largest utility, and Campbell plans to upgrade Shaw Drive to allow access for his use and for emergency vehicles.
“No one will live on the property and it requires no municipal water or sewer services,” he said.
Campbell said the blueberries are not for retail, or pick your own use. They were chosen because they are efficient in capturing carbon dioxide and converting it into oxygen. They are long-term plants with excellent root systems that can last up to 100 years, he said.
“The plants get shade from the solar trackers,” he said. “We might harvest them and sell them, but they are not our main product here.”
The dual use is defined as agrivoltaics, the use of land for both agriculture and solar photovoltaic energy generation. Campbell said his project will provide clean, efficient energy.
“I am a conservative Republican, but I believe in clean energy, clean air and a clean environment,” said Campbell. “I want to see this type of smaller private energy options embraced everywhere. I walk the walk. My family has two electric cars, and I power my house with solar trackers. It is the way to go, a way to decrease reliance on other forms of energy.”
When the Planning Board reconsidered accepted his application, Campbell said, “You invested in our community tonight, and I thank you for that.”
A site walk as part of the city approval process is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 19 at 9 a.m., at Shaw Drive.