Moratoriums on large-scale solar, battery storage passed in Northfield

Roughly 100 residents attended Northfield’s Annual Town Meeting on Monday at Pioneer Valley Regional School.

Roughly 100 residents attended Northfield’s Annual Town Meeting on Monday at Pioneer Valley Regional School. STAFF PHOTO/ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

By ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

Staff Writer

Published: 05-07-2024 5:12 PM

NORTHFIELD — Residents voted in favor of 28 articles, including two citizen’s petitions to place temporary moratoriums on large-scale solar projects and battery storage facilities, during Monday’s Annual Town Meeting.

Discussion on the two citizen’s petitions, Articles 26 and 27, took up roughly half of the more than three-hour-long meeting attended by roughly 100 residents. Proponents argued that the solar and battery storage moratoriums would allow the town sufficient time to draft bylaws regulating large-scale solar arrays and battery storage facilities, and opponents argued that the moratoriums would halt the town’s efforts toward innovation and green energy.

“I have a master’s in environmental studies and I’ve dedicated my life to educating children about protecting our Earth,” resident Lynn Hansell said. “There’s nothing more important to me right now than climate change. … I feel strongly that a one-year moratorium on future large-scale industrial solar and related structures would allow our town to come together and envision how and where we would welcome this land use while also planning for the viable economic development that we so need.”

Of those who spoke in opposition to the solar panel moratorium was University of Massachusetts mechanical and industrial engineering professor Jon McGowan, who argued that passage of the article would result in the “drastic loss” of utility scale in Northfield and only aesthetic negative impacts. He spoke to the positive impact solar panels have by preventing carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere and noted that roughly one-third of the corn grown in the United States is used to make fuel, arguing that the farmland could be used more cost-effectively to house solar panels.

“An acre of photovoltaic panels produces more than 40 times more energy per acre than corn, so no wonder we like it,” McGowan said.

Others noted that the moratorium might conflict with state law, as Chapter 40A, Section 3 of Massachusetts General Law states that “No zoning ordinance or bylaw shall prohibit or unreasonably regulate the installation of solar energy systems or the building of structures that facilitate the collection of solar energy, except where necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare.”

Farmer Jesse Robertson-DuBois, who said his family grazes sheep at 10 solar array properties throughout the region, referenced the potential legal conflict while speaking in opposition to the solar panel moratorium. Robertson-DuBois also argued that the moratorium would reverse pre-existing bylaws that protect the rights of agricultural businesses, and businesses that support agriculture.

“Northfield has a zoning bylaw that supports farming businesses — not just farms, not just scenery. That’s what this is. This moratorium is not a pause, it attempts to reach back in time. ... It’s trying to reverse the course of history, reverse what’s already been settled by the town,” Robertson-DuBois said. “Frankly, I think it’s going to be thrown out by the attorney general.”

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After roughly two hours of combined discussion on the two citizen’s petitions, Article 26, concerning battery storage facilities, passed by a majority vote, and Article 27, the moratorium on large-scale solar, passed by an 81-17 vote.

Residents also voted in favor of transferring $113,572 from free cash to purchase a new police cruiser and radio system, as well as a $225,000 free cash transfer to replace the Fire Department’s 1986 GMC rescue truck.

The town voted, against the Selectboard’s recommendation, to approve Article 25, prompting the town to petition the Legislature to allow Fire Chief Floyd “Skip” Dunnell III to serve until Aug. 13, 2025, despite the state law requiring retirement at 65 for public safety officials. Article 25 marked Dunnell’s third retirement extension request, as the state approved a request in 2018 allowing Dunnell to serve until age 70 and another last year allowing the chief to serve until the age of 71.

Firefighter Christopher Kalinowski spoke in support of the third extension, arguing that Dunnell’s dedication to service and wealth of knowledge make him an irreplaceable asset to the town.

“I have learned stuff that I would not learn anywhere else than working side by side with this gentleman. He needs to be the fire chief for just one more year. He deserves to get that 50 years, that recognition. He served his community for 48 and a half years, we need him to get that one and a half more years,” Kalinowski said. “When he is gone, we will not be able to replace the knowledge and the know-how that that man has. He is irreplaceable.”

Additionally, the town voted to approve the roughly $4.45 million operating budget for fiscal year 2025, to raise and appropriate $400,000 to buy a Highway Department truck and related equipment, and to raise and appropriate $200,000 for the Emergency Services Facility Account to help fund facilities for police, fire and ambulance apparatus.

Anthony Cammalleri can be reached at 413-930-4429 or acammalleri@recorder.com.