Permitting begins for solar array at capped landfill in Amherst

  • Amherst Town Hall FILE PHOTO

  • The area of the proposed solar array on Belchertown Road in Amherst.  TOWN OF AMHERST

Staff Writer
Published: 10/8/2019 4:31:35 PM

AMHERST — After several years of planning and numerous revisions, including scaling back its size, a project to install solar panels on a capped municipal landfill is ready to begin the local permitting phase.

The Planning Board on Oct. 16 at 7 p.m., followed by the Zoning Board of Appeals on Oct. 24 at 6 p.m., are holding public hearings at Town Hall on the 3.8-megawatt solar installation proposed for the former landfill on the north side of Belchertown Road, adjacent to the town’s transfer station.

The project would be developed by Cypress Creek Renewables, based in Santa Monica, California, and with it, the town is anticipating payment-in-lieu-of-taxes revenue and a lower municipal electricity rate, as well as adding more renewable energy supply to the electricity grid.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek and Sustainability Coordinator Stephanie Ciccarello are beginning to meet with neighbors of the project, including those on Logtown Road and Dwight Circle, to apprise them of the looming construction. The dissemination of information has included going door to door with a handout, as well as answering questions and inviting residents to the permitting sessions.

Though first proposed in April 2011, solar panels have never been put on either of the two capped landfills, in part because of a lawsuit filed by abutters to the south landfill concerned about contamination of the drinking water supply, and because one of the town’s partners, SunEdison, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Even with this lengthy planning, Town Manager Paul Bockelman said it is important to connect with residents who live near the site so they are not caught off guard when work begins. All construction vehicles will access the site through the existing entrance to the transfer station off Belchertown Road. 

Bockelman compared the outreach to what has been done in neighborhoods near the Amherst College-owned South East Street parcel that could be used for a new Department of Public Works headquarters, noting people appreciate this direct approach.

Fencing will be installed around the perimeter of the north landfill to protect the habitat. The south landfill will have no solar but instead will become a protected habitat for the grasshopper sparrow, a state-listed threatened species and the town’s first dog park.

Town permitting is only one component of the project, which is facing state reviews under the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Department of Environmental Protection Post Closure Use Permit and the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act.

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


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