Four Star Farms in Northfield replies to petition against proposed solar arrays

  • This early site rendering created by BlueWave Solar shows three proposed solar arrays off of Pine Meadow Road in Northfield. SCREENSHOT

Staff Writer
Published: 1/31/2021 5:02:54 PM

NORTHFIELD — The owners of Four Star Farms have penned an open letter in response to a petition that objects to three proposed dual-use solar arrays on their property on the merit that the project will detract from the area’s scenic views.

The Planning Board met with Rich Riccio of Field Engineering and Jackie Firsty of Boston-based BlueWave Solar, the proposed developers, in November 2020. The two explained their plan for the arrays, to be located on the land of Four Star Farms owners Bonnie and Gene L’Etoile, off Pine Meadow Road.

Since then, Melissa Gamache, a resident of Pine Meadow Road, has created the petition “Save our farm land from permanent damage,” on As of Sunday, the petition had 86 signatures.

Gamache said she is concerned about the impact the solar fields would have on residences’ scenic views of the agricultural land. She said Pine Meadow Road is part of the Franklin County Bikeway and provides scenic walks and drives to the Riverview Picnic Area, and the project will be seen by homes on Pine Meadow Road, Riverview Drive and Cross Road.

The solar project, Gamache said, “affects everyone who drives, rides, walks or runs this road to enjoy our beautiful historic agricultural landscape.”

If approved, Gamache’s home would look out onto the field of the southern array, “Array A,” which, Riccio explained in November, would be roughly 26 acres and generate about 4 megawatts of power. The second array, “Array B,” would be located farther north on Pine Meadow Road, in a field around the bend from Riverview Road, and would generate about 6 megawatts of power through 1,400 panels. A third small array, “Array C,” would be located on the Connecticut River side of Pine Meadow Road and generate a half-megawatt of power.

In an open letter on Four Star Farms’ website, owners Bonnie and Gene L’Etoile said they wanted to “bring some clarity” to their intentions for the solar projects. As they look to retire, the farm is “going through a new evolution,” with the next generation focused on farming hops and operating the newly opened The Brewery at Four Star Farms, which uses less farmland. They said they had been approached by solar developers over the past decade, but “rebuffed them all out of a commitment to keeping the land in agriculture.” Then, two years ago, they were approached by BlueWave Solar regarding dual use solar arrays.

Agricultural dual use solar arrays, as we have come to know them, are far less densely built (roughly half the panels per acre), are raised much higher in the air (usually 10 feet in the air), and involve no concrete footings or anchors (just single monopoles driven into the ground), and BlueWave has been a pioneer in dual use over the last few years,” the L’Etoiles wrote in their letter.

The L’Etoiles said the agricultural dual use arrays are built in a way that allows the existing farm soils to remain, such that they can still be farmed under them. They said these types of arrays are required to be commercially farmed for the entire 20-year life span of the project to comply with the state’s Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program. However, this construction style is also more expensive than a traditional solar array, and the added construction cost, combined with the distance to the nearest substation, requires a project of the proposed size to be economically viable.

If approved, the land under the panels will be converted to long-term pasture, and another farmer is already prepared to access this pasture for the new home of a sustainable small animal livestock operation. Fields to the west are permanently protected as farmland, while the L’Etoiles’ other fields are not. While they have more flexibility on the unprotected land to adapt and evolve, Bonnie and Gene L’Etoile said they are devoted to keeping the land in farming, and see this project “as a solid path forward to doing so.”

“We also see it as an opportunity to give new farmers a leg up with access to land, financial support and training dedicated to helping them start a new operation on the land that has supported us for so long,” the letter reads. “We’ve not developed any of our farmland here in the valley over the last 35 years, and we’ve kept virtually all of it in farming over that time. We hope this new endeavor will allow us to keep it that way long into the future, producing wholesome, sustainable food and greatly increasing the carbon in our soil, all while also doing much more to improve our climate and improve the future for all of us by producing clean energy.”

Gamache said she has read the L’Etoiles’ letter, but she still does not support the project and is concerned about a “snowball effect” with other solar arrays being proposed in town.

During the November Planning Board meeting, member Joe Graveline proposed a potential moratorium on future solar arrays following the review of the Pine Meadow Road project.

The three proposed arrays on the Four Star Farms property are being submitted as separate permits to the Planning Board, so they may be approved or declined individually. Extended site plan information is available online at

The Planning Board will meet on Feb. 18, at 4 p.m. to discuss the proposed solar project prior to a formal public hearing. Questions can be submitted to the Planning Board via the email link on the board’s page of the town website. Formal posting of the meeting, agenda and Zoom login information will occur the week of Feb. 18.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at or 413-930-4579.


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261


Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy