State fines Eversource, builder up to $310,000 for solar project runoff in Southampton

  • An example of a large scale ground-mounted solar array. Thomas Pearson

Staff Writer
Published: 4/15/2021 8:35:36 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — A New Jersey solar energy company and Eversource Energy have agreed to pay up to $310,000 in state fines for allegedly violating state environmental laws, leading to pollution in Southampton’s Moose Brook and other protected areas.

The settlement with the state attorney general’s office alleges that, while constructing an 11.7-acre solar array in Southampton in 2018 and 2019, Eversource and CS Energy LLC violated regulations under the Wetlands Protection Act and Clean Waters Act. Eversource owns the array, off Valley Road about half a mile from the Westfield line, and CS Energy carried out the construction.

The consent decree was entered in Suffolk Superior Court earlier this month.

According to the AG’s office, CS Energy and Eversource “caused or allowed sediment-laden stormwater to flow in significant volumes off the array site into tributaries that feed into Moose Brook.”

By the end of 2018, “those illegal sediment discharges had clogged one of the streams, dumped sediment in a bordering wetland area, and turned Moose Brook’s waters cloudy downstream of the solar array,” the complaint stated.

The complaint also alleges that CS Energy did not comply with an enforcement order issued from the Southampton Conservation Commission intended to control erosion and sedimentation.

The area is near existing conservation land, according to the AG’s office, “and will contribute to the development of a protected Manhan River corridor.”

The settlement marks the second large fine imposed in recent months by the state on a solar developer in Hampshire County. Dynamic Energy Solutions LLC of Pennsylvania agreed in February to pay approximately $1.14 million to settle allegations that it violated federal stormwater requirements, damaged wetlands and polluted the West Branch of the Mill River in Williamsburg. The problems occurred during the company’s 2018 construction of a 4-megawatt, 17,000-panel solar energy project at a former sand and gravel pit on Briar Hill Road in Williamsburg and Goshen.

In the Southampton case, the settlement, announced this week by Attorney General Maura Healey, will direct $70,000 toward preserving 8.7 acres of land near the solar array site, according to Michael Gorski, director of the Springfield office of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. The settlement also includes “significant monetary penalty and restoration requirements,” Gorski said in a statement.

Collectively, Eversource and CS Energy will pay a civil penalty of up to $240,000, though $96,000 may be suspended if the companies comply with the consent judgment terms, according to the AG’s office.

Southampton Town Administrator Ed Gibson said the town itself was not involved with the case, but appreciates that the settlement sets aside funding to protect the wetland area.

“We’re always happy here in Southampton with preserving open space,” Gibson said.

The settlement portion directed toward protecting the area near the solar array “makes sense, because it will also protect that wetland environment that was allegedly damaged in the construction of the solar site and the solar farm,” he added.

Gibson said he believes that the array has been up and running since sometime last year.

Eversource spokeswoman Priscilla Ress said the concerns arose from “unanticipated stormwater impacts on this case,” and that the energy company has been working with the AG’s office and MassDEP to resolve the issue.

“We take our role to provide safe, reliable service to our customers while being responsible environmental stewards very seriously,” Ress said.

She added, “As we continue our work to advance solar in the region and the shared goal of a clean energy future, we will also continue to focus on ensuring robust and comprehensive construction-period best practices for stormwater to help address extreme weather events.”

Since becoming aware of the issue in 2018, Eversource has conducted a programwide compliance evaluation for all constructed solar sites, according to Ress. The company also uses a third-party environmental compliance monitor, she added.

CS Energy could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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