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Bottom Line: Sun may be shining on newly bought Claremont parcel eyed for solar field

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 8/7/2021 9:22:30 PM
Modified: 8/7/2021 9:53:03 PM

Grissom Lane on the outskirts of Claremont is a graveyard of smokestack industries. The hangar-size rusting corpses of two of the city’s grimiest businesses, metal recycler Schnitzer Northeast and “waste to energy” incinerator Wheelabrator, loom behind locked gates, dark and abandoned.

But this corner of Claremont with relics from the carbon era may a future hub for green energy.

Energy Resources Group, a Farmington, N.H.-based company that specializes in servicing power generation systems, recently purchased a nearly 20-acre parcel adjacent to the former Wheelabrator plant, which ERG also purchased in 2017 for the bargain price of $37,000.

Although there was concern at the time that ERG — which acquired the property through subsidiary Power Investment LLC — might have plans to fire up the energy plant again, the site today is a ghostly structure surrounded by woods and weeds that appear to be gradually reclaiming it.

So, what’s ERG up to in Claremont, now that it owns two adjacent parcels in a part of the city that is also in the path of Eversource power lines and less than a mile through the woods to the utility’s River Road substation?

ERG did not respond to requests for comment — the company also kept mum when it bought the Wheelabrator plant 3½ years ago — but abutters and neighbors of the newly purchased adjacent property, which was first reported by The Sullivan Report, a blog that covers Claremont — tell me that they have been hearing ERG is eyeing the parcel for a solar field.

“They want to put solar there,” said Avis Rogers, who lives on Grissom Road and whose property borders the parcel that ERG now owns. Rogers, a 92-year-old widow who has lived in her home for nearly 40 years said she controls a right of way for access to ERG’s parcel.

“I’m not interested in selling,” she declared.

The nearly 20-acre parcel was owned by Brad Lane, of Swanzey, N.H., whose family had been longtime property owners near the auto dealer strip along Charlestown Road. Lane sold the property to ERG for $345,000, according to Sullivan County Registry of Deeds records.

Unlike the largely wooded 9-acre former Wheelabrator site, Lane’s parcel has been a field hayed by a neighboring farmer with ample exposure to the sun.

“We’re losing that. Best one we had,” John Haynes, a retired dairy farmer who now lives next door to his farm on Tangren Road, mused about Lane’s hayfield parcel that ERG purchased. Haynes now leases his dairy farm to Baird Swift, a 2005 Thetford Academy graduate.

Swift said he had been aware from conversations with Lane that the landowner would be selling the hayfield parcel and is resigned to having to hay elsewhere or purchase it for his herd of 60 Holsteins.

“It’s one of those things,” Swift said outside his farmhouse at the end of Tangren Road on Wednesday.

Messages left for Lane were not returned.

Don Chabot, owner of Town & Country Realty Associates in Claremont and a veteran Sullivan County property broker, said the parcel ERG acquired would be “ideal” for a solar field “because it’s one of the best south-facing open fields in the area.”

“He had it on the market for some time,” Chabot said of Lane.

If ERG goes ahead and builds a solar field on the property it purchased, it could be the second solar field eyed for the southwestern corner of the city near the railroad tracks.

Nearly two years ago, Claremont’s City Council approved a lease agreement with Falmouth, Maine-based North Light Energy to build a 10-megawatt array on vacant industrial property across four parcels off River Road and Grissom Lane.

Two of the parcels, which comprise 123 acres, are owned by the city (a third is owned by the Claremont Development Authority and a fourth is in private hands). Under terms of the agreement, Claremont would receive $3 million over 20 years.

Nancy Merrill, planning and development director for Claremont, said via email that North Light Energy — which has dubbed the project “Steel Mill Solar” — is doing studies this year and that she anticipates a site plan this fall.

But a second solar field from ERG would be welcomed, thinks Rebecca MacKenzie, a member of the city of Claremont’s Energy Advisory Committee who was vocal in opposition to the Wheelabrator incinerator.

“The only thing we could figure out is what a company would do with 19 acres is to put a solar field in it,” MacKenzie said of her reaction to ERG’s latest purchase.

“They haven’t said what they are going to do that incinerator, but we just want it gone,” MacKenzie said, adding that converting the two ERG properties totaling almost 40 acres into a solar field “would be a great idea.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.




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