Proposed combined solar projects in Shutesbury possibly state’s largest

  • A diagram of the solar projects proposed in Shutesbury by Amp Energy of Ontario, Canada. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • An example of a large-scale ground-mounted solar array. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/10/2021 4:19:44 PM

SHUTESBURY — Five solar projects that combined would become possibly the largest such renewable power source in the state — and which would also bring significant revenue to the town — are being proposed for development.

Amp Energy of Ontario, Canada, is taking the initial steps to use up to 190 acres of forested land, owned by W.D. Cowls Inc., for the arrays that would generate 45 megawatts of power. That’s enough power to serve 5,000 households, the company said.

“To my knowledge, this would be the largest in Massachusetts,” Evan Turner, a representative for Amp, told the Select Board and Planning Board during a presentation earlier this month.

Turner said the company already holds a lease option for the sites for the “very large proposal as a group of projects.”

Before moving forward with the plans, though, the company would like to pursue what is called a municipal partnership model that would generate $450,000 for the town in the first year of payment in lieu of taxes.

Such partnerships, with the host community helping to operate the solar project, can mean fast-tracking through state approval under new regulations, developed by the state Department of Energy Resources, as part of the Solar Mass Renewable Energy program.

Turner calls this the “HOV,” or high occupancy vehicle lane on highways, of solar development, making it more predictable and more certain.

The town’s involvement might also include being paid an annual fee by Amp to do various property work, such as snowplowing, grass cutting and security, along with emergency response and maintenance.

But before the development happens, it will need to go through a series of steps that include approvals from both the Select Board and voters at Town Meeting, and various permitting by the Planning Board and Conservation Commission. There could also be issues with the town’s restrictive zoning, with Turner explaining that some aspects might have to be challenged legally to make it a go.

The Select Board recently wrote a letter to residents, posted on the town website, that explains details of this: “Amp’s two concerns with Shutesbury are that the new solar bylaw amendments are too restrictive and Amp indicated they would seek waivers of some conditions, and secondly that the permitting process will be slow.” Video of the March 1 meeting is also posted.

A previous 5.6-megawatt solar development on the Wheelock Tract off Pratt Corner Road proved controversial several years ago, both because of the removal of trees and the possibility that it was once a Native American burial ground.

Amp’s proposed projects would use a north-to-south route that Turner calls “one long trunk of projects,” three of which would be large size and two that would be medium size.

Each project has a name based on its location — Pratt East, Pratt West and Pratt South for the projects off Pratt Corner Road, and Leverett West and Montague.

Pratt East, one of the larger arrays, would be located south of the existing 40-acre Wheelock Tract development. It would be joined by Pratt West, a medium array on 20 acres, while Pratt South, a larger array, would go up 60 acres close to the Amherst town line.

The Montague array near Montague and Carver roads would be developed on 60 acres, while Leveret West, a medium array, is slated for the corner of Leverett and Montague roads.

A sixth had been considered for Baker Road, but due to wetlands was determined not to be feasible at this time.

Select Board member April Stein told the developers that she is intrigued by the ideas of reducing the town’s tax rate, having money available for services and providing green energy.

But Stein said she is also someone who uses the woods, especially in the area of Carver Road, and appreciates that residents might be upset about losing that natural habitat.

“Sometimes you have to think of the greater good,” Stein said.

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


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