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In wake of opposition to proposed solar installation, Hatfield moves to create solar bylaw

— After plans to install a large-scale solar installation on 18 acres of farmland met with strong opposition from neighbors, the Planning Board is taking steps to create a solar bylaw for the town.

Several residents whose properties are near the proposed solar installation on land owned by Szawloski Realty Inc. attended Wednesday night’s Planning Board meeting. The property is located at 45 Chestnut St. and bordered by Prospect and Bridge streets.

Robert Bartlett, who heads the Planning Board, said he had hoped a committee could be appointed to draft an appropriate solar bylaw for the town.

“I wanted to discuss setting up a committee with folks from your group and the Energy Committee and any other interested parties,” Bartlett said. “We want a bylaw that is something that everybody can work with and one that works well for the town.

Stanley Pitchko, who lives on Prospect Street near the site of the proposed installation, presented the board with a packet of research on solar bylaws enacted in other western Massachusetts towns. The regulations deal with size, placement, maintenance and decommissioning of solar facilities.

“We pulled out examples of what we thought were good solar bylaws in towns similar to Hatfield,” Pitchko said. “Our hope tonight was to present information to the board for your consideration and to ask how we can be helpful as you move forward.”

The Boston-based Citizens Energy Corporation met with the Planning Board in August, proposing to building a two-megawatt solar installation on the Szawloski property.

The Planning Board had tabled the issue to gather additional information.

On Sept. 19, however, Citizens Energy withdrew its proposal, giving no reason as to why or whether the company intended to bring forward a different plan.

Residents said they feared Citizens Energy might apply for a permit from the town’s building inspector to circumvent the public process of the Planning Board. On Sept. 24, 19 people filed suit in Hampshire County Land Court against the Town of Hatfield and Szawloski Realty Inc.

According to Pitchko, the litigation prevents Citizens Energy from going forward with any large-scale solar project in the near future.

“Stopping the process long enough to have a bylaw put in place was our only intention in bringing the suit,” Pitchko said. “We have never said that we don’t want solar, what scared us was the proposed location and the magnitude of the project,” he said.

Bartlett meanwhile asked residents to provide two or three names of people willing to serve on a solar bylaw committee.

David Biddle, a member of the Energy Committee and one of the original founders of Co-op Power, a Hatfield-based consumer-owned, renewable energy cooperative, said he was also willing to help create the town’s solar bylaw.

“I have worked on alternative energy projects for over 30 years. I am happy to be involved in helping to write this bylaw,” Biddle said.

“The most critical part of the process is to get a site that nobody is going to fight you on,” he said.

Once the bylaw is drafted, the town would hold a public meeting to discuss it. It will then be voted on at annual Town Meeting in May.

“There is a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm in our group right now,” Pitchko said. “And I think it is important that when these companies approach us, we have a bylaw in place,” he said.

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