Developer proposes large-scale solar array off Shutesbury Road in Amherst

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Staff Writer
Published: 11/3/2021 11:58:55 AM

AMHERST — A large-scale solar project is being proposed for a portion of 100 acres of land owned by W.D. Cowls, Inc. off Shutesbury Road.

A notice of intent was recently filed with the Conservation Commission by ASD Shutesbury MA Solar LLC for the 11-megawatt project that would be built on three wooded parcels south of existing homes on the road. The properties extend east to the town line with Pelham.

The project is being handled by Amp Energy of Ontario, Canada, the same company that earlier this year began the initial steps in using 190 acres of forested land primarily in Shutesbury, also owned by W.D. Cowls Inc., for five solar projects that would generate 45 megawatts of power. That’s enough power to serve 5,000 households, according to Amp.

The commission last week held the initial hearing on the plans and continued the discussion until Nov. 10 at 7:45 p.m.

The application proposes tree clearing and ground disturbance of 45 acres of wooded south-facing hillside for the photovoltaics and an access road, with several impacts to a wetlands buffer zone.

Erin Jacque, the town’s wetlands administrator, wrote in an email that additional information being sought by town staff and the commission includes field-based test pits and borings to confirm soil type and determine the depth to groundwater, as well as questions staff and commissioners had before and during the meeting.

Thomas Reidy, an attorney with Bacon Wilson, PC, of Amherst, said the project will comply with the state’s Wetland Protection Act and the town’s wetlands bylaws. In addition, a special permit will be sought from the Zoning Board of Appeals, with hearings expected to begin by December.

W.D. Cowls President Cinda Jones said it was a good meeting and she appreciates concerns abutters have about what could happen with the properties. Jones observes that Cowls has already conserved over 2,000 adjacent acres that protect both the Amherst and Quabbin watersheds, and prior to that her company gave up development rights for almost 3,500 additional acres in Leverett and Shutesbury.

Those are now known as the Walter Cowls Jones Working Forest and the Paul C. Jones Working Forest.

“We are committed to both landscape-level land conservation and harvesting energy from the sun on up to 3% of our acres,” Jones said. “As our generation’s caretakers of this land, we’re making hard choices and doing what we think is best for the future of our planet.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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