Amherst Town Council nixes solar project moratorium

  • View of an approximately 30-acre solar farm north of Pulpit Hill Road in Amherst on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/1/2022 12:37:12 PM

AMHERST — Large-scale, ground-mounted solar projects will be allowed to proceed under current zoning rules after the Town Council shot down a temporary moratorium on their installation.

Councilors voted 8-5 Monday in favor of the moratorium, falling one vote shy of the necessary two-thirds majority to adopt the zoning change, which would have prohibited development of projects generating at least 250 kilowatts of power through May 2023.

The moratorium had been proposed to give the town time to develop a comprehensive solar bylaw following submission of plans for an 11-megawatt project on about 100 acres of wooded land off Shutesbury Road, near the Shutesbury and Pelham town lines. That project has since been withdrawn.

“Smart, sensible approaches to solar siting don’t depend on moratoriums,” said At-Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke.

In her vote against the moratorium, Hanneke cited a resolution adopted by Town Meeting in 2017 advising town officials that Amherst should pursue clean, 100% renewable energy, and take no actions that might impede that goal. The moratorium, Hanneke said, would violate both the spirit and letter of that resolution.

The other councilors voting no on the moratorium were District 1’s Michele Miller, District 4’s Anika Lopes, District 5’s Shalini Bahl-Milne and At-Large Councilor Andy Steinberg.

The language of the moratorium stated that town boards and committees could not accept or approve “any application for a large-scale ground-mounted solar energy system with a rated capacity of 250 kW DC or greater.”

For the councilors who proposed the moratorium, District 2’s Pat DeAngelis and Lynn Griesemer, and District 5’s Ana Devlin Gauthier, the months-long conversation on the topic is a victory for the town, as they expect that a solar siting bylaw will be developed using a siting study.

“While the vote failed, we’re considering this a win,” Devlin Gauthier said.

After the vote was recorded, Devlin Gauthier immediately proposed that Town Manager Paul Bockelman be tasked with writing a charge for a new solar bylaw working group that will oversee the development of the bylaw. That working group concept will come to a vote later this month, with language of a bylaw to be developed by March 6, 2023.

Devlin Gauthier hoped to have a vote on that taken Monday, but Hanneke advised that such action could be a violation of the Open Meeting Law since it was not on the agenda, though District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen said the topic was central to the council’s conversation.

Before the vote, councilors weighed in on their reasons for their votes.

Steinberg said he wants a strong solar bylaw that will protect the town, but there was no emergency to use a technique he is uncomfortable in deploying. “I have an inherent dislike for moratoriums,” Steinberg said.

Each day a moratorium is in place preventing large-scale solar could mean more greenhouse gas emissions, Bahl-Milne said. “This is impacting the world in a really rapid way,” Bahl-Milne said.

Miller also said any further delay confronting the climate crisis would be detrimental, while Lopes explained that as a global citizen, she needs to put the welfare of people first.

For those who supported the moratorium, they noted it wouldn’t prohibit rooftop solar, brownfield development and solar over parking lots, or projects already in progress, such as those to be developed at the former Hickory Ridge Golf Course and one of the capped town landfills on Belchertown Road.

“What I’m looking for is a balance between forest and soil that will be destroyed with the amount of forest that can be saved to do its work,” DeAngelis said.

Many of those who spoke publicly told the council it should adopt the moratorium.

Michael Lipinski of Shutesbury Road said putting off large-scale projects would give time for the town to develop a comprehensive bylaw for what he calls “industrial solar.”

Henry Lappen of Pulpit Hill Road said the removal of trees for solar is a worrying trend. “Cutting down forests outweighs any benefit of putting solar in,” Lappen said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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