After continued hearing, date set to deliberate on Pine Meadow Road solar proposal in Northfield

  • A site rendering created by BlueWave Solar shows three proposed solar arrays off of Pine Meadow Road in Northfield. Contributed Image/BlueWave Solar

Staff Writer
Published: 4/16/2021 8:07:43 PM

NORTHFIELD — The Planning Board met last week to continue its public hearing and discuss recent changes to the site plan for one of three proposed dual-use solar arrays planned for Four Star Farms’ property on Pine Meadow Road. The board also set a date, April 28, to deliberate on granting the special permit.

Jackie Firsty of the Boston-based BlueWave Solar said the project developers met with Eversource to review two options for changing an interconnection pole and the access driveway for “Array A,” the largest of the three arrays at roughly 26 acres which would be located north along Pine Meadow Road, beyond Riverview Road.

Rich Riccio, project manager with Field Engineering, said the first alternative option would move the interconnection point farther south along Pine Meadow Road to the area where the road curves. This change would require cutting trees, and would reduce the size of a gravel access driveway by about 20 percent.

“Alternative two is we keep the driveway the same, and we come under Pine Meadow with a conduit and under the berm to a pole line along the driveway,” Riccio said.

This second alternative would require less tree cutting than the first option, and bringing the pole line farther south would use existing trees as a vegetation buffer to help block abutters’ view of the poles. The Planning Board will review these options as part of its deliberations later this month.

Further conversation, following a question from Planning Board member Joe Graveline, touched on the state and local application processes. Firsty explained the agricultural dual-use solar project has received “predetermination approval” from the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, but this is the most it can receive until it is approved for a special permit through the town. At that point, it can be approved for the state Department of Energy Resources’ Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program, an incentive program that promotes cost-effective solar development. The anticipated construction cost is roughly $20 million.

“That feels like the cart before the horse to me,” Graveline commented.

He said having more information on state approval and guidelines would be beneficial to the Planning Board’s deliberation. He noted Northfield has a zoned Solar Overlay District on the west side of the Connecticut River that “would allow a project like this to receive a stamp of approval just about instantly.” The site under review, however, is in the Residential/Agricultural zone. Although the zoning bylaws do not explicitly prohibit a dual-use solar project in this area, Graveline expressed concern about how approval of the special permit could set a precedent “for other farmland in Northfield, and probably the rest of the state.”

During previous meetings, landowners Bonnie and Eugene L’Etoile stated this parcel of land was chosen for the project because around 100 acres of their property — specifically those by the Connecticut River — are conserved under an Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) and cannot be used for such development.

Speaking last week, Bonnie L’Etoile said her family will continue to own the land while the solar arrays exist on it. As an agricultural dual-use project, the land under the solar panels will be used by Jesse Robertson-DuBois of Finicky Farm as pasture for goats and sheep.

“We have a history in this community of over 30 years in farming, and we’ve always had it in farming,” Bonnie L’Etoile said. “Just because the type of farming we’re doing will change does not mean it’s out of farming.”

The change of use, she added, will give the land a chance to rest before Four Star Farms uses the land for crops again in the future. The solar project’s lifespan, according to Firsty, is expected to be 20 years.

The total project, pending approval from the Planning Board, will consist of about 76 acres of solar arrays across three tracts of land owned by the L’Etoile family and Four Star Farms off of Pine Meadow Road. “Array B,” would be located across from the Four Star Farms main building on Pine Meadow Road. A third, small array, “Array C,” would be located on the Connecticut River side of Pine Meadow Road. Each array is being presented to the Planning Board as a separate application and may be approved, or declined, individually.

According to Firsty, the solar arrays would offset roughly 27 million pounds of carbon dioxide annually for the 20-year lifespan of the project. They would also have the capacity to power around 2,000 homes annually.

Planning Board Chair Stephan Seredynski has said scheduling of the next meeting is on hold until the board receives written guidance from the town attorney at KP Law on how best to proceed. Members will convene for deliberation and vote on a date to be determined. Materials submitted by the applicant, and which will be reviewed by the Planning Board, are available to view under “Submitted Site Plans” on the Planning Board page of the Northfield town website.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.




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