State approves East Windsor solar farm, largest in the Northeast

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The Connecticut Siting Council has approved the largest solar development in the Northeastern U.S., a 120-megawatt project covering 485 acres.

Construction of Gravel Pit Solar could begin as early as this year and be finished in late 2022 or early 2023, state and local officials said.

First Selectman Jason Bowsza said the project “presents an opportunity for East Windsor to be a part of the state’s renewable energy goals while seeing a significant increase in local tax revenue for the town.”

An agreement requires owners to pay $378,000 annually for 20 years, plus a $1.5 million impact payment at the beginning of construction.

The state of Connecticut has purchased 20 megawatts of power, while Rhode Island has purchased 50, with the remainder to be sold to additional buyers, officials said.

The collection of parcels under several owners stretches from the South Windsor town line to Apothecaries Hall Road. Besides operating gravel pits, Bowsaw said the site includes raw land and agricultural fields. New York City-based developer D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments (DESRI) and project developer North Light Energy had secured options on the land from the various owners.

The array, according to a presentation, would be a quiet neighbor with no town services needed. Also, the entire site is to be fenced in, a relief to the town, Bowsza has said, because trespassers have used the area for drinking, bonfires and ATV rallies, a longtime hazard that the town has been unable to stop.

The Gravel Pit project was one of nine solar projects selected by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in late 2018 under a law passed the prior year that required the state to solicit bids for additional renewable energy. Together, the solar projects were expected to generate 165 megawatts.

“In addition to the environmental benefits, the project will generate local job opportunities as well,” Rep. Jamie Foster, D-East Windsor, said. “Although farmland is included in this project, it is important to remember that the land can be used for farming after the life of the solar panels end.”

The East Windsor project comes after a large solar array began operating in 2019 in Simsbury. Tobacco Valley Solar was designed to produce 26 megawatts.

DESRI is part of the D.E. Shaw Group, major backer of the Block Island Wind Farm, the first offshore wind farm in the nation. Since 2005, the firm has invested in over three dozen solar and wind projects, according to its website.

Solar installations have been growing across the nation. In 2019, the industry added more than 13.3 gigawatts (one gigawatt equals 1,000 megawatts) of solar capacity, which now totals about 81 gigawatts, or enough to power 15.7 million homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The largest array in the nation is Solar Star in Rosamond, California, which includes 1.7 million panels on 3,200 acres and generates 579 megawatts.

Jesse Leavenworth can be reached at