Amherst residents voice support for moratorium on large-scale solar projects


Staff Writer

Published: 01-11-2022 6:29 PM

AMHERST — A temporary moratorium on developing large-scale, ground-mounted solar projects, defined as ones that generate at least 250 kilowatts of power, is winning support from residents.

At a Community Resources Committee public hearing Monday, many of the 60 or more people in virtual attendance spoke in favor of adopting the moratorium sponsored by three councilors: District 2’s Lynn Griesemer and Pat DeAngelis and District 4’s Ana Devlin Gauthier.

If passed by a two-thirds vote of the Town Council, the moratorium would remain in effect until as late as May 2023, or until a solar siting bylaw is developed. 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.”

Even though the moratorium originally came in response to a proposal for an 11-megawatt project on about 100 acres of wooded land owned by W.D. Cowls Inc. off Shutesbury Road near the Pelham and Shutesbury town line, that project has since been withdrawn.

Still, Kathleen Bridgewater of Shutesbury Road said she “heartily supports” putting the moratorium on the books. “It is a wise move for the town of Amherst at this point,” Bridgewater said.

“We need to approach this in a careful and intelligent way,” said Corinne Demas of High Point Drive

Speaking for Sunrise Amherst, a youth group focused on climate change and other issues, Jane Scanlan-Emigh of Pondview Drive said the major concern with large-scale solar projects is the potential deforestation that might take place.

DeAngelis said Amherst residents care about sustainability and renewable energy, but the town needs a bylaw that can set conditions for the appropriate placement of these projects and how they will be removed. Having strong and explicit guidelines will make them safer for the environment, DeAngelis said.

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Amherst officials need time to develop a solar siting bylaw that is consistent with the town’s values, Griesemer said.

Should the moratorium go into effect, it would not prohibit large-scale solar projects that are underway, including the project being developed on the former landfill on Belchertown Road and at the former Hickory Ridge Golf Course on West Pomeroy Lane. In addition, developers could begin the permitting process for large-scale projects.

Though solar projects are reviewed by town boards, either through site plans or special permits, Devlin Gauthier said those methods don’t offer the protection of a bylaw. Having previously served on the Conservation Commission, she is aware of the limits to its reviews.

Steve Roof of South East Street was the only resident to speak against the moratorium. He said it is urgent to stop burning fossil fuels, and that while he supports developing a bylaw and having a comprehensive study, a moratorium is too blunt an instrument. “It will just put us farther behind on our global goals,” Roof said.

Elisa Campbell of Pine Grove said she is conflicted, since the town should have had a bylaw several years ago to direct solar projects. Now, delaying projects could be costly.

“My concern is really we’re in a global crisis, and Amherst is contributing to not solving the problem,” Campbell said.

The Community Resources Committee, made up of five councilors, will make a recommendation to the full Town Council Jan. 27 at 6:30 p.m.