Northfield Planning Board sets hearing for Four Star Farms solar proposal

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

Staff Writer
Published: 2/10/2021 5:00:45 PM

NORTHFIELD — A formal public hearing with the Planning Board regarding the proposed dual use solar array project on Four Star Farms’ property off Pine Meadow Road has been scheduled for Feb. 18, at 4 p.m.

Planning Board Chair Stephen Seredynski explained the board, which regularly meets on the third Thursday of the month, had originally planned to discuss the project among its members this month and set a date for a future hearing, but later agreed to schedule the hearing for this month at the request of BlueWave Solar, one of the developers, and Four Star Farms, the property owners. The Feb. 18 meeting can be accessed at zoom.us/j/94016172990.

“We already had two informal meetings with the (Planning) Board and abutters,” Seredynski said. “After reviewing a 2-foot stack of material from the developers, and another foot stack from Four Star Farms — all highly technical, governmental related stuff — we figured there was no sense in delaying.”

Seredynski also said the developers will pay for the Planning Board to receive consultation from Beth Greenblatt, managing director of Beacon Integrated Solutions. Greenblatt will guide board members in reviewing the “highly complex” application from Field Engineering and BlueWave Solar.

The public hearing will see an introduction from the Planning Board and a presentation by the applicants, who have submitted individual applications for three solar arrays. The southern array, “Array A,” 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.

The applicants’ presentation will be followed by a question and answer session with Planning Board members, before the conversation is opened to the public for comments and questions. Residents may submit questions ahead of the Feb. 18 meeting by emailing through the town Planning Board webpage.

Seredynski said the Planning Board will likely schedule another meeting after the Feb. 18 one for further deliberation and a potential vote. “Having been down this road before” with previous application processes, he said he “doubts very much” that a vote will be taken on Feb. 18.

The three proposed arrays on the Four Star Farms property are being submitted for separate permits to the Planning Board, so they may be approved or declined individually. Extended site plan information — including a cover letter, hydrologic report, application package and site plans for all three arrays — is available at bit.ly/3t0PHyf.

Four Star Farms property owners Bonnie and Gene L’Etoile recently penned an open letter in response to a petition against the proposed solar arrays. Pine Meadow Road resident Melissa Gamache started the petition, which can be found at bit.ly/3cC9e2B.

During a recent Selectboard meeting, Gamache and fellow resident Chris Kalinowski voiced their opposition to the project and their concerns about the impact it would have on residences’ scenic views of the agricultural land. The petition has also seen support from residents who do not want solar arrays built on “prime farmland.”

In their letter, the L’Etoiles said the dual use arrays are built higher off the ground than standard panels, and involve no concrete footing or anchors beyond a single monopole in the ground. This design allows the existing farm soils to remain, such that farming can still be done underneath them, the L’Etoiles said. If approved, the land under the panels will be converted to long-term pasture, and Jesse Robertson-DuBois of Finicky Farm is prepared to access the pasture for the new home of a sustainable small animal livestock operation.

Four Star Farms also published a second letter from Robertson-DuBois, who writes that he has 20 years of experience working “at the interface of agriculture and conservation.” He said he views dual use agrisolar systems as an excellent way to keep agricultural land in active use with long-term contracts.

“The challenges of land access and farm transitions are also personal for me, and as a non-landowning farmer, the opportunity to secure a long-term lease and establish a viable, growth-oriented farm business would be a game-changer,” he wrote.

Pending approval of the Northfield solar project, Robertson-DuBois said he plans to develop an independent business based at Four Star Farms, with the land and infrastructure associated with the solar arrays as the wintertime home and year-round hub of a larger mobile grazing operation. He said the infrastructure brought to Four Star Farms by this project, such as livestock housing, a well and water lines, built-in shade for the animals in the form of elevated panels and agricultural fencing around the entire array, are necessary investments in grazing capacity that are made possible due to the solar investments.

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



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