Town officials to vet solar project moratorium bylaw in Amherst

  • 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: 11/23/2021 1:59:19 PM

AMHERST — An 18-month moratorium on large-scale solar projects, already narrowly supported by the Town Council earlier in November, will continue making its way through municipal hearings.

But whether there is still urgency in getting the temporary bylaw in place is uncertain as Town Manager Paul Bockelman informed councilors at their meeting Monday that an 11-megawatt project, on about 100 acres of wooded land off Shutesbury Road, has been withdrawn by Amp Energy of Ontario, Canada.

The project was proposed for land owned by W.D. Cowls Inc., south of homes and near the Pelham and Shutesbury town lines.

Even though the moratorium was reconsidered at the request of At-Large Councilors Andy Steinberg and Mandi Jo Hanneke, councilors voted 9-4 to refer the bylaw to the Community Resources Committee and Planning Board for hearings.

The moratorium would prevent town boards and committees from accepting or approving “any application for a large-scale ground-mounted solar energy system with a rated capacity of 250 kW DC or greater.”

Council President Lynn Griesemer, who represents District 2 where the solar project has been proposed, brought the moratorium forward with fellow District 2 Councilor Pat DeAngelis.

Griesemer said that town planning staff recommended the 18-month period so it could develop, and the town could get in place, a solar siting bylaw.

DeAngelis said the moratorium is not about stopping a project. “A moratorium will provide us that planning time,” DeAngelis said.

Hanneke said a solar siting bylaw could be developed without a moratorium, and District 4 Councilor Steve Schreiber called moratoriums a “nuclear option” that he opposes.

At-Large Councilor Brewer, who voted against the moratorium and was joined by Hanneke, District 3 Councilor Georg Ryan and Schreiber, said that councilors Griesemer and DeAngelis had spent staff time on a topic that was not considered a council priority.

“I don’t understand why these councilors felt empowered to do that,” Brewer said.

While Brewer supports developing a solar siting bylaw, like Hanneke she said this could be done without a moratorium.

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

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