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Buckland OKs solar bylaw

BUCKLAND — They say politics makes strange bedfellows, and the four voters who opposed the Planning Board’s large-scale solar farm bylaw fell into two camps: those who thought the bylaw was too restrictive and those who thought it wasn’t restrictive enough.

The 25 other voters at Monday’s special town meeting did approve the measure, after learning that an extension of the town’s two-year moratorium on large-scale solar farms was unlikely to be granted by the state.

“We’re under the gun by the state,” said Planning Board member Rob Riggan. “If we don’t come up with regulations, we won’t have any, and we’re not allowed to take another moratorium.”

Planning Board Chairman John Gould said that, without a bylaw in place, any siting of a large-scale photovoltaic array would be subject only to the same requirements required of any building project. This wouldn’t include some of the bylaw’s safeguards to exclude solar facilities on permanently protected open space areas or critical areas for endangered species habitats. Also, the newly approved bylaw requires developers to have liability insurance and to remove abandoned ground-mounted solar electricity generating facilities and to restore the land after their use is discontinued.

The new bylaw defines large-scale solar arrays as occupying more than 1,000 square feet of land up to 5 acres. Electricity-generating systems of that size will require both a site-plan review and a special permit, with maps and plans to be prepared by a licensed professional engineer. Also, the developer of a large system must show that at least 51 percent of the electricity generated by the solar array will be used on premises, whether this energy is for a home, a farm or a manufacturing center.

Michael Garfield-Wright, owner of Chunks of Energy LLC food products, and Dancing Star Farm, said the proposed bylaw was “very anti-green.” He said that, in limiting the size of solar farms, the bylaw would restrict potential tax revenues to the town, as well as revenues for property owners.

Garfield-Wright said he saw solar farms everywhere, while traveling through Spain by train. “They support their farmers,” he said. “This bylaw doesn’t offer that opportunity ... I could grow crops between my solar panels,” he added. “It’s not restricting agriculture.”

Janet Sinclair, chairwoman of the Renewable Energy Advisory Committee, said the town shouldn’t rush to approve a solar bylaw that many people aren’t happy with. “What is so special about solar that we always have to toss out the things about the town that are part of why we live here?” she asked. “Franklin County is already a net-exporter of energy use.” She said the state is encouraging solar facilities for redevelopment of old parking lots and other unused industrial sites. “There’s no pressure for us to use our farmland for industrial solar use,” she said.

Planners pointed out that the original bylaw permitted solar facilities of up to 10 acres, but cut that down to five acres based on feedback during two public hearings. Riggan said the requirement that at least 51 percent of the energy be used on premises was a way to minimize the number of acres that would be put to use in solar panels. “I can’t think of a farm that could use 51 percent of the energy produced on five acres (of solar panels),” he said.

“There are people who want (solar farms of ) 10 acres and those who want less than one acre?” remarked Planning Board member Michael Hoberman. “When a bylaw goes through, nobody’s 100 percent happy with it.”

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

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