Northfield Planning Board approves conditions for Pine Meadow Road solar arrays

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

Staff Writer
Published: 7/22/2021 6:45:14 PM

NORTHFIELD — After eight months of discussion and three public hearing sessions, the Planning Board has approved the conditions for special permits for three solar arrays to be built along Pine Meadow Road.

The total project will consist of about 76 acres of solar arrays across the three tracts of land owned by the L’Etoile family and Four Star Farms. “Array A,” the largest of the three arrays at roughly 26 acres capable of generating 6 megawatts of power, will be located north along Pine Meadow Road, beyond Riverview Road. “Array B” is capable of generating 4.3 megawatts and would be located across from the Four Star Farms main building. A third, small array, “Array C,” would be located on the Connecticut River side of Pine Meadow Road and would generate approximately half a megawatt of power.

Developer BlueWave Solar has said the anticipated construction cost is roughly $20 million, with the project lifespan expected to be 20 years. Developers estimate it would offset roughly 27 million pounds of carbon dioxide annually over this time. After 20 years, the land and project owners will be eligible to renew the life of the project or follow a decommission plan.

The Planning Board met in a hybrid format on Wednesday, with Vice Chair Meg Riordan tuning in virtually and monitoring a Zoom meeting that residents were able to join. Chair Stephen Seredynski and other members of the board gathered at Town Hall, where residents were also welcome to attend in person.

“Today’s meeting purpose is really to review the proposed conditions,” Riordan said.

As a matter of order, Seredynski said the board would not read through all the conditions as those responsible for making changes and approvals had already received and reviewed them. Categories of conditions included administrative, general, zoning and setback, agricultural preservation, vegetation and visual mitigation, archeological impact, Eversource interconnection siting, project modifications and post-construction. While there are some specific conditions for each solar array, a majority of conditions were applied to all three permits.

“The conditions are designed to as much as possible protect citizens and abutters, as well as the town of Northfield,” Seredynski said, speaking the day after the Planning Board meeting.

Conditions were written by Beacon Integrated Solutions consultant Beth Greenblatt and submitted on Monday. The only major change to the conditions made during discussion on Wednesday was to adjust all timelines for providing documentation to the Planning Board and other parties to 60-day windows. While originally shorter, Planning Board members said changing these timelines to 60 days advanced or retroactive notice as required would provide consistency and allow the board more time to schedule a meeting for any required review.

During the public hearing process, the Planning Board and BlueWave Solar heard from Historical Commission Chair and Selectboard member Barbara “Bee” Jacque and Rich Holschuch, a public liaison for the Elnu Abenaki tribe and director of the Atowi Project in Brattleboro, Vt., who both raised concerns about disturbing the land and the impact on any historical or archeological value. These conversations influenced conditions listed under “archeological impact,” requiring BlueWave Solar to provide the Planning Board with a copy of an agreement with the Atowi Project. Additionally, BlueWave Solar must engage an archeologist to prepare and conduct required sampling studies. A copy of these study findings must also be shared with the Planning Board.

As an agricultural dual-use solar project, the land under the solar panels will be leased by the L’Etoiles to Jesse Robertson-DuBois of Finicky Farm as pasture for goats and sheep. Under “post-construction” conditions, the applicant is required to document the continued agricultural use of the property on an annual basis. Such documentation must include productivity of the crop(s) and herd, including pounds harvested and/or grazed, herd growth, success of crops and potential changes.

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


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