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Evergreen Solar quiets Devens plant; but noise ongoing?


DEVENS — “We’ve been dealing with the Evergreen noise issue for quite some time,” said Devens Enterprise Commission Vice Chairman James DeZutter. It was on April 1, 2009 when Evergreen Solar was first ordered by the Commission to quiet their Barnum Road solar panel factory.

But on Nov. 4 Evergreen Solar was granted a clean bill of health from the Devens land-use board. Meanwhile, Harvard neighbors, silenced at the Commission’s last meeting, continue to lobby for the tying up all loose ends before the Commission approves a final Certificate of Occupancy for the 3-year-old plant.

Three stories high, exterior-mounted machinery has been muffled by a nearly-completed, custom-fitted wall assembled from sound-squelching panels. Despite lingering work on the wall, a review of sound measurements shows Evergreen Solar has met the Nov. 1 deadline to quiet the facility, according to TechEnvironmental Vice President Michael Lannan.

Permanent monitors will remain in place at two locations behind the facility. The maximum sound levels were set by the Commission in July. Noise in excess of the limits will presumptively originate from Evergreen Solar unless the corporation can prove the sound levels either originate offsite or fall into a short set of temporary circumstances like construction work on site.

Reference monitor R5 is located aside a bank of air scrubbers. Noise levels at R5 mustn’t exceed 60 decibels during the day or 58 decibels at night.

Reference monitor R7 is located next to a bank of elevated cooling towers. R7 readings cannot exceed 55 decibels by day or 52 decibels at night.

Lannan said that on the afternoon of Nov. 1, eight of nine massive air conditioning towers ramped up to 60-percent capacity to simulate a hot summer day. The air conditioners have been permanently disabled from exceeding 60-percent power in the wake of the noise debacle unless CEO Michael El-Hillow authorizes an override in a password-protected block on the air-conditioning capacity.

It will take several more weeks to “button some things up” said Lannan. A frame is needed to affix 40 more panels to enclose a final section of machinery, doors are needed, and gaps need to be spanned between panels. But despite the gaps, Lannan said Evergreen has “gone above and beyond.”

“It’s very quiet out there,” said Lannan.

On Nov. 1, R5 readings were measured at 50 decibels at night, well under the 58 decibels nighttime cap. R7 readings registered between 47 and 48 decibels. The R7 nighttime cap is 52 decibels.


DeZutter said “I want to remind everybody that this is an open meeting, not a public hearing.” He received silence from the board when asked whether to entertain any comment from what’s become a regular crowd of Harvard residential abutters. Still, DeZutter agreed to field one comment from Old Mill Road horse farm owner Janice Perry.

While Perry expressed concern over noise generated by exhaust fans, she said she was “glad to see the numbers come down. That’s for sure” and was “really encouraged” with the progress.

After the meeting, however, the co-owners of Dunroven Farm on Old Mill Road, Jay Wallace and Laura McGovern, were opposed to the issuance of a final certificate of occupancy for the Evergreen Solar plant.

In his Nov. 8 letter to the Commission, Wallace lobbied the board to demand compliance with all nine conditions that Evergreen Solar, the Commission, and the Town of Harvard agreed to in a July 14, 2009 Noise Violation Resolution. Until all nine conditions are met, “Evergreen will not have resolved the noise violation and they will be compelled to continue to operate under a temporary certificate of occupancy,” Wallace wrote.

Wallace claims that two conditions are outstanding. Condition No. 2 required the installation of a permanent noise monitoring station at Dunroven Farm. Condition No. 3 requires Evergreen to “adhere to an extremely strict standard of future performance,” Wallace said.

The tri-party accord came at a time when the Commission considered potential per diem fines or the ordering of plant shutdowns over the noise levels. In the end, Evergreen Solar was allowed to operate under what Wallace said were “good faith efforts.”

“Under this mutually agreed definition, certain conditions would be met, a certain time table would be kept. At this time, Evergreen has met only 78 percent of the conditions and is 411 days late,” Wallace charged.

Wallace said unless the conditions are satisfied, the issuance of a final Certificate of Occupancy “would be the ultimate act of bad faith.” Wallace also calls for several construction permits pulled by the company over the years to be closed-out or withdrawn.

Contacted by the Harvard Hillside, McGovern said she remained “hopeful that the Commissioners will do what’s right — honor the agreement to its completion. For it was the Harvard Board of Selectmen that started Evergreen Solar on the path to compliance and the Devens Enterprise Commission that allowed the violation to go on for so long.”

“Decisions of the Devens Enterprise Commission put residents in harm’s way. The company was allowed to operate in violation for more than a year. Is this the standard of business at Devens?” McGovern said.

Looking at the bigger picture, McGovern wondered, “What part does MassDevelopment play? With all the available spots in Devens, what was the driving force to place Evergreen Solar 400 feet from residential property? In the permitting process, this huge plant was required to squish machinery along the south wall towards residential property. Why?”

“Commissioners are appointed to watch out for the interests of the communities, not just the businesses. Staff agenda is to serve the business. They have no reason to look out for the communities,” McGovern said.


On a voice vote with 10 commissioners present, Evergreen Solar was unanimously determined to be in compliance with the Devens zoning standards regarding noise levels. Commission attorney Edith Netter said the vote set in motion the long term monitoring protocol and compliance measuring methodology approved by the Commission in July.

No official from the company spoke. Evergreen Solar Vice President for Construction Management and Facilities Engineering Carl Stegerwald and Facilities Manager Phil McRae left the room immediately after the vote.

As it has since operations began in 2008, Evergreen Solar continues to operate under a temporary certificate of occupancy. The Commission will consider issuing a final certificate of occupancy (CO) at its Nov. 16 meeting.

Commission Administrative Director Peter Lowitt said the temporary CO was to expire Nov. 15 but would be extended by Devens Building Inspector Gabriel Vellante through Nov. 20. The added time will allow the Commission to review requests from Dunroven Farm “among others asking that we have at least a little more data before us before we issue the permanent Certificate of Occupancy.”

Commissioner John Olfke asked, “Why would we believe anything would occur to cause a spike in limits?” DeZutter answered, “I think we’re being on the conservative side.”

“You’re making Attila the Hun look like a liberal,” Olfke joked.

In other business, MassDevelopment representatives didn’t appear before the Commission to provide an update on its five-year traffic study. Neither did MassDevelopment representatives show to discuss Devens Wastewater Treatment Facility septic waste policy, though both items were on the meeting agenda.

Commissioners were also notified that the hearing for the proposed Devens Household Hazardous Waste Collection Center, originally continued until Nov. 16, will now be continued until Dec. 9. The continuation comes upon request of the applicant, MassDevelopment.