Solar company nixes Greenfield plans, charts further development in Bernardston

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 01-22-2023 1:36 PM

BERNARDSTON — After receiving special permit approval in 2019 to build a solar array crossing the Bernardston-Greenfield line, an international renewable energy developer has returned to the Planning Board to amend its site plans and special permit.

Following further analysis of its initial plans, Pacifico Energy, which is based in Japan and has offices in Boston, has nixed the Greenfield portion of its project and has instead proposed further development off 52 Bernardston Road.

“It was heavily shaded terrain and would have been an odd array layout,” Pacifico Energy North America Properties Director of Development Kris Pitney said of the Greenfield plans, adding that the trees in that area were in protected wetlands. “It’s a better project, which is why we went through the effort in making the changes.”

The new plan proposes an additional 5.5-acre array in Bernardston, which bring the total acreage of solar panels to 18 acres. The total acreage of the property is approximately 71.6 acres, according to Laura Lefebvre, a consultant with TRC Companies.

“This land is underutilized. This project … is going to provide an economic benefit for the town,” Lefebvre said.

Since the Planning Board already approved two of the Bernardston arrays, an approval that three of the current board members were involved with, much of the focus of last week’s presentation and brief site plan review was on the newest addition.

“We’re really just concerned with the modification up top,” said Planning Board Chair Christina Slocum-Wysk.

Reviewing the town’s site plan criteria, the Planning Board took no issue with any of Pacifico Energy’s plans nor its impact on the neighborhood, which Lefebvre and Pitney said will be minimal. The company plans to keep all soil in the area, even after doing some minimal grading.

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Lefebvre said the 6.5-megawatt facility will be “low-profile” as the solar panels will be less than 15 feet tall and the residences surrounding it are more than 1,500 feet away with natural visual barriers.

“It’s a great site because it’s set back for residences and you have the highway here,” she said. “It’s very set back.”

Despite the change in plans, Pitney said Pacifico Energy will still sell power generated by the arrays to Eversource. Construction, if the project is approved, would begin later this year and the arrays would be expected to be operational by the end of 2023. Pitney said solar facilities “go up pretty quick.”

With the initial presentation and site plan review discussed, Slocum-Wysk said the Planning Board will continue its public hearing to Thursday, Feb. 2, at 6:30 p.m. to address amending Pacifico Energy’s special permit.

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

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