Solar farm developer says proposed moratorium in Shutesbury would kill project

Last modified: Saturday, July 04, 2015

SHUTESBURY — Developers proposing a six-megawatt solar farm to Pratt Corner Road are ready to begin the town’s permitting process, even as a citizens’ petition is before officials requesting that any action by town boards be delayed until a new solar bylaw is developed.

Marnin Lebovits, managing director and co-founder of Chicago-based Lake Street Development Partners, said this week that establishing a moratorium would be devastating to the plan to bring the project to 30 acres of the Wheelock tract, owned by W.D. Cowls Inc.

“A moratorium will basically kill the project,” Lebovits said.

On Tuesday, Alliance for Appropriate Development submitted a petition to the Select Board asking that a moratorium take effect immediately and municipal consideration of Lake Street’s application be halted.

Town Administrator Rebecca Torres said the Select Board’s responsibility is to pass this petition on to the Planning Board within 14 days. She hopes to get answers to questions by board members in advance of their July 14 meeting.

“The Select Board is asking questions about the Planning Board’s time line as well as trying to understand what the petition is asking for specifically,” Torres said.

Alliance spokesman Michael Suter said in an email that he is confident the moratorium request will be sent on and the Planning Board will have to schedule a hearing on the issue within 65 days. One of the questions is whether Lake Street’s application, seeking a special permit for light industrial use, should be allowed to proceed.

“Certainly we believe the town would open itself to litigation from other developers or residents if it allowed this project to be grandfathered since the permit has not been issued,” Suter said.

If the moratorium is enacted, then the Alliance will submit language for a new bylaw for zoning of commercial solar installations, Suter said.

Lebovits said his hope is that the moratorium will not move forward and that the town allows existing proposals to play out before the Planning Board and Conservation Commission. Lebovits said no meetings have yet been scheduled.

Lake Street already has three solar farms operating and other projects in various stages of permitting. Lebovits said he believes the town’s current rules are sufficient for similar solar development and give residents enough protections.

Lebovits said the site was selected because it is not only close to a National Grid substation, but also distant from the nearest homes and 1,500 feet from Pratt Corner Road.

“We specifically structured the project to be away from any of the environmental limitations,” Lebovits said. “We felt it is close enough to interconnect but far enough removed so it wouldn’t affect neighbors.”

Lebovits also said comparisons to a solar farm in Orange, which is visible to traffic on Route 202, are inaccurate.

“You’d only see if it you were going to be on Cowls property,” Lebovits said.

Other than cutting some trees within a buffer zone of wetlands area, the town would get the full environmental benefit of having renewable energy, and there would also be an economic benefit, he said. Lebovits added that the developer will negotiate with the town, which could get around $8,000 per megawatt in payments. That means Shutesbury would collect about $50,000 annually in new property taxes.

“We’re looking to have a long-term relationship with the town,” Lebovits said.

Suter said there remain serious concerns about the project’s impact on local water resources and wildlife and that better sites are available.

Knowing these concerns, the developer has agreed to pay for an independent peer review to assist the Conservation Commission. “We’re following every procedure the town is requiring us to do,” Lebovits said

Lebovits said he has already had two meetings with residents and finds unusual the reaction from some residents. “We’ve never encountered something like this. Never,” Lebovits said.

If the project is approved, Lebovits said Lake Street would like to begin construction sometime in the fall and have the solar farm generating power by spring 2016.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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