After appeal dismissed, BlueWave Solar project back on track in Northfield 

A site rendering created by BlueWave Solar shows where three future solar arrays will be located off of Pine Meadow Road in Northfield.

A site rendering created by BlueWave Solar shows where three future solar arrays will be located off of Pine Meadow Road in Northfield. FILE IMAGE

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 01-08-2024 1:38 PM

Modified: 01-08-2024 7:15 PM


NORTHFIELD — With the appeal of BlueWave Solar’s three arrays on Pine Meadow Road dismissed in September, the company is working with its project partners as it prepares to make progress on their installation.

Stagnant for two years because of the 2021 appeal, the 26,000-panel, 10.9-megawatt project is expected to follow the designs brought before the Planning Board that year, according to Senior Director of Project Development Michael Zhe. Any sort of timeline, though, is unclear at this point.

“As we develop a construction plan set, we will work with the town to comply with all conditions of the special permit and adjust aspects of the project accordingly, if needed,” Zhe said. “At this time, there is no set date for groundbreaking, but we hope to have updates on the construction phase soon and will share more information when we have it.”

The timeline is hazy, Zhe said, because energy projects such as this one “encompass a lot of moving parts,” including the utility company, which has its own schedules and projects it needs to take care of.

Array A, the largest of the three arrays at approximately 26 acres, would generate about 4 megawatts of power and be situated along Pine Meadow Road in a field around the bend from Riverview Road. The second array, Array B, would generate about 6 megawatts of power through 1,400 panels and be located across from the Four Star Farms main building. A third array, Array C, at around 2 acres, would be located on the Connecticut River side of Pine Meadow Road and generate a half-megawatt of power.

The land is owned by members of the L’Etoile family, who will be leasing it to the long-term owner/operator over the project’s initial 20-year lifespan.

On top of generating energy, the dual-use project also will allow livestock to graze underneath the panels. To meet this goal, Zhe said BlueWave has been working with farmers, the state departments of Energy Resources and Agricultural Resources, as well as local boards to ensure this project, and others around Massachusetts, are successful.

“BlueWave has been pioneering the practice of dual-use or agrivoltaics for years and we are passionate about preserving land and ensuring that farmland remains viable across New England and beyond,” Zhe said. “Our plans ensure that sheep, goats and other livestock can live alongside solar — they can enjoy utilizing the shade of the panels in the summer and their grazing patterns will go uninterrupted. Also, the projects are designed to ensure hay production can occur.

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“We firmly believe that our proposal sets a high standard of what ground-mounted solar projects should be,” Zhe continued, “as Massachusetts works to balance the goals of increasing clean energy production, keeping farmland viable and providing financial support to hardworking farming families.”

As BlueWave makes progress on the project, it will be turning the corner on what has been a long road since it first brought the arrays before the Planning Board in November 2020.

Following that preliminary discussion were eight months of public hearings and Planning Board deliberations, which ultimately resulted in a July 2021 special permit approval with a litany of conditions regarding zoning and setbacks, agricultural preservation, vegetation and visual mitigation, archaeological impacts, Eversource interconnection siting, project modifications and post-construction aspects of the project.

The approval was then followed by an appeal in September 2021, where abutter Christopher Kalinowski, along with environmental nonprofit RESTORE: The North Woods, objected to the Planning Board’s decision on the grounds that the board violated an attendance requirement known as the Mullin Rule and the project should have been prohibited based on the town’s large-scale, ground-mounted solar installation bylaws.

In April 2023, the appeal seemed to be headed toward a jury trial, as Franklin County Superior Court Judge Karen Goodwin ruled there were “genuine issues of material fact,” but the parties came together in September to dismiss the case with prejudice and without fees to any party.

“This was the best financial decision for me and my family and my piece of property,” Kalinowski said in September. “I’m still unhappy with taking farmland and putting solar panels on it.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.