Solar panel project at RR depot clouded by criticism
Published 4:43 pm, Friday, November 20, 2015
Whether solar panels proposed for the downtown train station’s parking lot are a bright idea appears to depend on a person’s perspective.
The solar panels, which would sit above the parking lot atop carports — similar to those erected by the town in a Mill Plain Road lot — would provide 90 percent of the electricity for Tomlinson Middle School, and would cover about one-third of the parking lot on the New York-bound side of the station, according to town officials. It would not cost the town anything to erect or maintain the panels, and would save about $1.2 million over the 20-year life of the contract, they say.
At a Thursday night presentation on the project, some commuters were concerned about a loss of parking slots during construction. But residents of the next-door Mosswood Condominiums, where some units directly overlook the lot, who were the most vocal in opposition.
Jamie Millington, the Republican Town Committee chairman who lives at Mosswood and owns two other units there, said as a real estate agent, “one of the most important things is visual.” He said he shows prospective home buyers the Town Hall area, Southport Village, local beaches and downtown to give them a sense of the community. “We take them to the Fairfield train station, a great New England train station with a large parking lot,” he said.
Millington said when the solar carport was constructed at the Postol Recreation Center on Mill Plain Road, “People said, ‘What the hell is that, a gas station?’ ”
As for the renderings of the train station solar structure, “It looks like a truck stop in Milford,” Millington said. “There was a time in Fairfield when we actually cared about our image.” He said it will have a strong negative impact on property values.
Scott Thompson, a member of the town’s Clean Energy Task Force, countered Millington’s statement with the suggestion that there may be visitors to town who would be impressed with the town’s renewable-energy efforts.
Mosswood resident Fay Carpenter said the train station was built in 1865 and is on the National Registry of Historic Places. “It’s a big concern now to have this huge construction project,” she said.
Newly elected Selectman Chris Tymniak, who was on the Representative Town Meeting, said he was bringing himself up to speed on details of the proposal. While he said he is comfortable working with Greenskies, the town’s vendor on the project, “I’m just learning about this. Do we want this for 20 years?”
The town’s contract with Greenskies is for 20 years, with two five-year options at the end of the lease. If the town does not want to continue with the solar panels, Greenskies must remove them at the business’s own expense. Conversely, the town could decide to purchase the solar panel installation.
Commuters had concerns about where they would park during the construction prject. It is estimated it will take about six weeks to install the seven sections of solar panels in three phases. Once a phase is completed, the area would be re-opened for parking.
Assistant Public Works Director Ed Boman said the work is being done in the summer months, when the demand for parking is less. Additional parking would be provided at the lot on Mill Plain Road and at Tomlinson Middle School and Fairfield Ludlowe when school is closed. Shuttle buses would be provided between the lots and the station.
Boman said based on figures he said came from the Parking Authority regarding summer parking lot usage, those lots should provide more alternate spaces than would be lost during construction.
One commuter said he has no problem with the solar carports and described the current parking lot as “decrepit,” adding he is pleased at the prospect of saving money on energy costs.