Site Long Known for Dairy May Soon Harvest the Sun

REHOBOTH – The Bliss family has been known as dairy farmers and purveyors of milk and dairy products since the 1600s.

But if all goes well, they could soon be hosting a farm of a different kind on the old family dairy property on Tremont Street.

Citizens Energy, which operates five large-scale solar energy farms around the Bay State, is planning to lease a portion of the land and construct a 2.4 megawatt solar generation facility to produce electricity for commercial distribution.

Nine to 10 acres of panels would be required to convert the sun’s rays into electricity. Bliss Brothers Dairy President David Bliss said the initiative for the project came from Citizens Energy.

“It’s not something we went looking for,” said Bliss, whose forebearer Jonathan Bliss moved to Rehoboth in the 1600s.

“Citizens Energy came to us and were interested in the site for a solar energy project,” Bliss said.

Virtually all of the negotiations concerning a solar farm have occurred between Citizens and the board of selectmen. A proposal to create a payment in lieu of taxes agreement between the developer and the town is likely to appear on the spring town meeting warrant.

The arrangement would help ensure that the ancestral land remains in the Bliss family, however.

“My father and I have always wanted to keep that open land,” Bliss said. “We don’t want to see anything happen to it.”

Ben Axelman, renewable energy project developer for Citizens Energy, said the cost of solar panels, the prime component of solar generating facilities, has declined markedly, helping to make solar energy more competitive with other types of generation and spurring more investors to construct new solar farms.

Several are in the permitting stages across Massachusetts.

Proponents says solar panels require little maintenance, produce a steady stream of current and reduce the need to burn fossil fuels, such as coal or oil, to creat electricity.

Axelman said the payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, agreement would enable the town to count on a steady stream of stable revenue over the next 20 years.

Payments in lieu of taxes would be made on the equipment Citizens Energy would install and would not extinguish the taxes due on the land.

Selectmen have raised questions concerning whether the financial arrangements would be a plus for the town.

But neighbors appear to have an open mind.

“I don’t have a problem with it,” said Craig Stevens, who lives on Tremont Street a short distance from the proposed solar farm site.

Stevens says he’s been considering solar panels for his own home.

“It’s better than burning coal or oil, and there could be a tax benefit for the town,” he said.

Ricky Wynn, whose house is across the street from the proposed project, said the solar panels may not be as aesthetically pleasing as the farmland that currently exists, but recognizes the need to expand the use of alternative energy.

“I’d rather have that across from me than more houses,” he said.