Norton Farm plans to harvest the sun

This section of the Norton farm will soon be sprouting solar panels. — Photo by Sam Moore

On Tuesday,  W. H. Bennett Inc. of Chilmark submitted plans to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) for a two-acre solar array to be constructed on Norton Farm in Oak Bluffs. The regional planning and permitting agency is set to decide if it will review the project as a development of regional impact (DRI).

The proposed solar array will consist of 2,040 solar panels, and is projected to produce 650 kilowatts of electricity. The 50-acre Norton Farm is owned by Jamie and Dianne Norton, teachers at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, and has been in the Norton family since 1837.

Speaking to The Times on Tuesday, Mr. Norton said the idea for the solar project arose about two years ago in a conversation with Bill Bennett, owner of W. H. Bennett Inc. “He’s done projects on farms before, like Andy Woodruff’s farm, so he knows what he’s doing,” Mr. Norton said.

The solar array would be installed on a parcel once used to grow grapes for the now defunct Chicama Vineyards. Most recently it was used to grow potatoes and eggplant.  

The proposed array would also fit into Mr. Norton’s business plan. He said he and his wife are looking to ease their summer workload.

“We were looking on cutting back,” he said. “Morning Glory Farm has 100 employees; I have four. A farm is a lot of work.”

As proposed, the array will be sited approximately 65 feet from the southern limit of the property and 319 feet from Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road. Mr. Norton said there will also be a thick buffer of oak trees between the array and the road.

The electricity created by the solar array will be used to power Norton Farm, and the excess electric will be sold to local nonprofit businesses at a discounted rate, according to the application submitted to the MVC.

Mr. Norton said his biggest drains of electricity are the refrigeration in the summer and heating pads in February and March, where new plants are grown. “Our bill spikes so much, Eversource asked what the heck we were growing here,” he joked.

The array will be fenced-in and seeded to provide grazing for sheep.

It will be maintained by W. H. Bennett Inc. and monitored remotely by a Solar Edge monitoring system.

The MVC is scheduled to discuss the project on Thursday, April 7, and to decide whether to take it on as a DRI or to leave permitting to town boards.