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Hawley solar bylaw hearing set for Tuesday at 6 p.m.

HAWLEY — The Planning Board is holding a public information session to discuss a proposed bylaw for ground-mounted solar electricity generating facilities that occupy more than 2,000 square feet of land.

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Hawley Town Office.

Hawley already has one large-scale solar farm, a 500-kilowatt array on 10 acres off East Road, owned by Berkshire East, which was installed in 2012. That solar array, along with a 900-kW wind turbine, produces more than enough energy to run the ski area and zip line canopy tour resort, year-round.

When asked if the Berkshire East solar array was a factor in designing the town’s bylaw, Planning Board member Margaret Fitzpatrick said she didn’t think one had anything to do with the other.

“Basically, this is just to get out in front of any other large proposal, knowing that eastern Mass. is looking toward western Mass. for renewable energy,” she said. Fitzpatrick noted that other towns, like Buckland and Rowe are also working on solar bylaws.

Planning Board Chairman Lloyd Crawford said the board has been working on a draft bylaw, with assistance from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments planning staff, and is looking for community input before bringing the proposed changes to a formal public hearing.

“Many local communities have already passed similar zoning changes,” he said. “This bylaw amendment would satisfy one of the requirements for the Massachusetts Green Community Certification Program, should the town choose to apply.” Crawford said the bylaw would allow solar arrays of up to 250 kW (roughly an acre in size) “by right” after a site plan review. One- to six-acre facilities would be allowed by special permit. Facilities larger than six acres would not be allowed.

The proposed bylaw does not regulate residential photovoltaic systems, which are typically smaller than 10 kW.

Large-scale installations would require a site-plan review, which would require a landscape plan and blueprints or drawings by a licensed electrical engineer, showing the layout and potential screening; diagrams of the installation and associated components and electrical interconnections; an operation and maintenance plan; proof of liability insurance; sightline representation from a stretch of public road within 300 feet of the clearest view of the facility. It would also require documentation by an acoustic engineer of projected noise levels. An operation and maintenance plan would also be required.

Setback requirements are 100 feet from all property lines. All components are to be no higher than 15 feet above ground level. The bylaw stipulates that herbicides cannot be used to control vegetation, that the array should be designed to minimize impacts to agricultural land and to natural habitats, especially where endangered species are involved.

If the solar farm is to be decommissioned, the owner or operator should remove it within 150 days of discontinued operation. If it is abandoned, the town will have the right to seek a court order to remove the structure after 150 days of abandonment. Large installations should provide surety to cover the cost of removal and landscape restoration.

A draft of this bylaw amendment has been posted on the town’s website: townofhawley.com.

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

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