Hatfield residents file suit to stop construction of solar project
HATFIELD — After the Boston-based Citizens Energy Corporation proposed building a solar installation on private property in Hatfield, residents abutting the land filed a suit to stop the potential construction from going forward.
The company, meantime, says it hasn’t decided whether it will pursue the project.
On Sept. 24, 19 abutters to roughly 36 acres owned by Szawloski Realty filed suit in Hampshire County Land Court against the town of Hatfield and Szawloski Realty Inc. The acreage in question is located at 45 Chestnut St. and is bordered by Prospect and Bridge streets.
“The suit asks for two basic things,” Town attorney William O’Neil, said. “First, that the court prevent the building inspector from issuing a permit for this project, and second, that construction of the solar array not take place on that property.”
In August, Citizens Energy had approached the Planning Board with a proposal to build a 2-megawatt solar array on 18 acres of the Szawloski property. On Sept. 5, the Planning Board tabled the issue so as to gather additional information regarding the project.
However, when the board reconvened Sept. 19, Steven D’Ambrosio, a consultant for Citizens Energy, asked that the board “withdraw the plan without prejudice.”
D’Ambrosio gave no reason as to why the plan was being withdrawn, nor did he say that a different plan would be brought forward.
Attorney Michael Pill, with the firm Green, Miles & Lipton in Northampton, is representing the 19 residents in the suit. Pill said he suspected the company might apply for a permit from the town’s building inspector as a way to circumvent the public process of the Planning Board.
The suit contends that going through the building inspector would “enable construction of the generating plant on the Szawlowski property with no special permit or site plan review, no public hearing and no public comment.”
Stanley Pitchko, a plaintiff in the suit, says that there are no town bylaws to regulate and control the placement or maintenance of a solar facility.
According to Pitchko, the idea behind filing the suit is to prevent the building of a solar array before the town has created sufficient bylaws that can be addressed such as size, placement, maintenance, and decommissioning issues.
Pitchko also said that the suit was not driven by a NIMBY attitude.
“Our entire group is pro-solar and it is important that people know that this is absolutely not a case of “not in my back yard,”” he said.
Pitchko said the issue was more accurately an instance of putting the cart before the horse, saying that before the town agrees to a solar installation, there should first be regulations in place to guide the process.
According to Town Administrator Paul Boudreau, the town has received no word from CEC regarding their intentions to either bring a new proposal to the planning board, or to apply for a permit through the building inspector.
Founded by Joseph P. Kennedy II, the CEC is a nonprofit company whose commercial subsidiaries support a number of social programs and charities.
One such subsidiary, Citizens Solar, is a for-profit national developer of large commercial, industrial and small utility-scale solar projects. The profits from Citizens Solar fund the CEC assistance programs.
Brian O’Connor a spokesperson for CEC, said Friday that the company is aware of the lawsuit and no decisions have been made regarding the project.
“At this point in time the decision to move forward is still being evaluated,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor did not comment as to whether or not the CEC was exploring other locations in town or the surrounding area.
Pitchko said that he hoped an appropriate bylaw could be crafted in the near future.
“We are still working very, very closely with the planning board, so that as they move forward with this, we can offer valuable input and information such as how other towns have dealt with this issue,” Pitchko said.