Westhampton solar project nearing Conservation Commission approval

  • Solar panels will be required on all new homes by 2020 under a California Energy Commission rule change. (Dreamstime) Dreamstime

Staff Writer 
Published: 8/2/2018 4:42:42 PM

WESTHAMPTON – The Conservation Commission inched closer to giving its approval to a proposed solar array on North and Montague roads, but members still have a few remaining concerns for the project designers.

On Wednesday, peer reviewers hired by CVE North America, Inc., the French energy company applying to build a 20.9-acre solar energy system, delivered their report to the commission on areas the project must address, such as dealing with invasive plant species and installing erosion controls. 

Alexander Fox, business developer for CVE, did not raise objections to the few recommendations made by the peer reviewers, and the commission will continue the hearing on Aug. 15. The two peer reviewers were Emily Stockwell of Stockman Associates and Mark Reed of Heritage Surveys. 

“We’ll update the plans to incorporate the feedback from the peer reviewers,” Fox said. “It doesn’t change the big picture; it adds refinements and details that are good.” 

The solar energy system would generate 4.98 megawatts of power. It would require 13 to 14 acres of forest to be cleared for the installation of 17,280 solar modules across two 10-acre parcels of Agawam resident Kurt Meegan’s property. The solar modules would be three feet off of the ground, standing at a little over six feet high, more than three feet wide, and less than two inches thick.

Last week, the Planning Board, who will ultimately decide whether to grant the project a special permit, continued their hearing for the application to Aug. 7 at 7 p.m.

The most significant change of the design, developed by SWCA Environmental Consultants of Amherst, was the pulling back of some solar array from a buffer zone on the northern half of the project. 

In that section near the southeast corner near Montague Road, the solar arrays were pulled back so that they would be out of the buffer zone around some wetlands. 

Kevin McCaffery, Senior Civil Engineer for SWCA, said it came at the request of the commission based on past meetings. This was the third continuation of their hearing. 

As for invasive plants, the project will require the use of a seed and soil mix typically used for solar farms that will be beneficial for pollinators, according to McCaffery. The arrays would be three feet off the ground to ensure that enough sunlight could establish that vegetation. 

Reed recommended stone check dams be installed going from east to west to help manage storm water drainage during peak hours of water flow.

Concerns over erosion during construction were also raised, and Reed recommended that the finalized design prevent any erosion from entering the buffer zone or conservation resource areas such as wetlands around the solar array. 

Additionally, Reed wanted to make sure that no arrays were built on a slope greater than 33 percent. He raised the issue when looking over the design plan where topographical lines were not clearly indicated. McCaffery said he did not think that any of the solar arrays would be built on such a slope, but Reed wanted to make sure that was the case. 

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com

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