Study finds a third of land in Amherst possible for solar sites

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 03-16-2023 3:10 PM

AMHERST — About one-third of Amherst’s land mass may be suitable for future solar projects, with 86% of the locations where photovoltaic installations could go currently undeveloped, according to a consultant’s map-based assessment.

The recently completed assessment, also known as a geospatial assessment, by GZAGeoEnvironmental Inc. of Norwood, is one element of an initiative that will guide town officials toward identifying the best ways to meet the town’s Climate Action, Adaptation and Resilience Plan.

That plan, adopted by the Town Council, aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25% below 2016 levels by 2025, and for Amherst to become carbon neutral by 2050.

At a virtual meeting to introduce the work, in advance of two in-person meetings taking place Saturday and on March 23, Adrienne solar projects. A final report from GZA will be the basis of ongoing work by two town boards.

One of those boards is the Energy and Climate Action Committee, which has identified renewable energy development as a main path to meet the town’s carbon reduction goals. Solar development is viewed as playing a key role in the transition from fossil fuels.

The other board is the Solar Bylaw Working Group, which this spring will make recommendations for solar-related zoning to the Town Council.

Beyond the town panels, the final report will also serve as a resource for residents and businesses that may be interested in a solar installation.

Dunk explained that where solar can be sited is the first piece of the report.

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About two-thirds of the town’s land, Dunk said, can’t be used for town solar projects, including the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College and Hampshire College campuses, wetlands, conservation land and protected farmland.

This determination will be supplemented by ranking on a scale of 0 to 10 the feasibility of potential solar areas, based on criteria such as how well the solar panels will function and the ability to have them connected to the utility grid. A final step will be characterizing potential solar siting areas by land use, including already built environments, such as rooftops and parking lots, and unbuilt environments, such as unused areas of residential and municipal properties.

Meanwhile, the input sought from residents includes a community survey, which has already been completed by about 100 people; the Engage Amherst website, where updates are provided and municipal contacts are listed; and in-person interactive workshops being held Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. and March 23 from 6 to 8 p.m., both at the Woodbury Room at the Jones Library. Activities for children, translation services and light refreshments will be part of those workshops.

Sustainability Director Stephanie Ciccarello said GZA’s expertise and skill is critical to the success of siting future solar projects. “The solar assessment mapping tool will prove to be an extremely useful source of information for municipal decision makers, property owners and businesses,” Ciccarello said.

“It’s incredibly important that the town have these resources available as we move Amherst toward its carbon reduction goals”, said Town Manager Paul Bockelman.

For more information, go to www.gza.com/amherst-massachusetts-town-wide-solar-assessment.

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