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Buckland to vote on solar bylaw Monday

  • The Buckland side of Shelburne Falls. Buckland residents will be voting on a solar zoning bylaw amendment Monday.<br/>(Recorder/Micky Bedell)

    The Buckland side of Shelburne Falls. Buckland residents will be voting on a solar zoning bylaw amendment Monday.
    (Recorder/Micky Bedell)

  • The Buckland side of Shelburne Falls.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

    The Buckland side of Shelburne Falls.
    Recorder/Micky Bedell

  • The Buckland side of Shelburne Falls. Buckland residents will be voting on a solar zoning bylaw amendment Monday.<br/>(Recorder/Micky Bedell)
  • The Buckland side of Shelburne Falls.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

BUCKLAND — Residents will be asked to adopt a zoning bylaw amendment for large-scale, electricity-generating solar farms at a special town meeting on Monday , beginning at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall. Copies of the bylaw proposal are available in the Town Hall.

The reason for bringing this bylaw to special town meeting — and not at annual town meeting — is to give residents more time for discussion and to have a large-scale solar-farm bylaw in place when the town’s moratorium on such facilities expires on July 1.

In 2012, the town approved a one-year moratorium on both wind turbines and large-scale solar electricity generation. “We had a one-year moratorium and we renewed it for one year. But it can’t be renewed again,” Planning Board member Michael Hoberman explained.

The Planning Board held a public hearing last April on a draft bylaw for large-scale solar farms, then modified the proposal based on public comment before holding a second public hearing in October.

Hoberman said the board is also working on a wind-turbine zoning bylaw and hopes to bring it to a special town meeting in June, before the wind moratorium expires July 1.

The proposed bylaw defines “large-scale ground-mounted solar electric generating installations” as occupying more than 1,000 square feet of land. Such solar photovoltaic arrays will require a special permit and a site plan review. Also, large-scale arrays may be permitted on one or more adjacent parcels that existed before this bylaw is adopted, up to a 5-acre maximum. But solar arrays covering more than five acres will not be allowed.

Also, 51 percent of the electricity produced annually by any large-scale array must be used on the site itself. For instance, a farm with a large solar array would have to use at least 51 percent of all the electricity made on the site to run equipment, heat and light barns, or provide power to the home or other outbuildings.

Small-scale ground-mounted arrays of 1,000 square feet or less, as accessory structures for homes or businesses, do not have to comply with the “large scale” bylaw, but they are subject to a site plan review and require a building permit. Small-scale installations on a roof or wall are permitted by right, and just require a building permit, said Planning Board Chairman John Gould.

The site-plan review for large, ground-mounted solar systems will require plans and maps to be prepared by a licensed, professional engineer. The plans should show property lines, map and lot number from assessors’ records, roads, topography, and proposed landscape changes to the site.

It should include location of wetlands, permanently protected open space, natural habitat areas, floodplain locations and wildlife habitats for any endangered species. It should also include electrical wiring diagrams, proof of liability insurance and site-line representation from public roads within 300 feet of the highest visible point of the solar array.

Large arrays cannot be built in permanently protected open space areas, or in habitat that has been designated as critical habitat through the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.

There must be landscape plans, and proof that the utility company that operates the electrical grid at the site has been notified of any intent to connect the energy produced by the solar array to the utility’s grid. Off-grid systems would be exempt from this last requirement.

Large-scale solar farms would require 50-foot setbacks from the front and all other property lines. Other structures to be on the site — storage facilities, fencing, transformers and substations — should be screened by vegetation or clustered, to avoid adverse visual impact. They cannot be taller than 20 feet.

Lighting should be limited to that required for safety and operations. Lights should be directed downward, to reduce light pollution. Lights should not be kept on after 9 p.m., unless there is an emergency. Noise from such facilities should not be louder than 5 decibels above the ambient noise-level of the site before construction work on the solar panels began.

Large solar arrays will also require regular maintenance, annual reporting, and indemnity, in case the solar farm is decommissioned or abandoned. If it is to be discontinued, the owner has 150 days to physically remove the structures, dispose of any solid or hazardous waste, and stabilize vegetation to minimize erosion.

Large solar arrays will not be allowed in the Shelburne Falls’ sections of Buckland that are zoned for “village commercial” or “village residential” use.

However, they will be allowed with a special permit in other zones designated as: “rural/residential,” “commercial,” “industrial’ and “historic industrial.”

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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