Solar farm eyed for Hatfield-Whately town line

Staff Writer
Published: 12/13/2018 9:33:44 AM

HATFIELD — Agricultural land near the Hatfield-Whately town line could become a new solar farm.

Clean Focus Renewables of Colorado is proposing using 29 acres of farmland on the west side of Main Street for what it is calling the Hatfield Community Solar Garden Project.

The 5-megawatt, ground-mounted system would feature about 20,000 solar panels, Zach Sawicki, project developer for Clean Focus, told the Planning Board at a recent meeting.

No decision has been made on issuing the project site plan approval or a special permit, with board members wanting more details about the wetlands and habitats on the site, including the possibility the vesper sparrow uses the land.

There are also questions about whether the project could be moved farther from the road and into property in Whately, to provide more buffer from the road, and if the land needs to be removed from the state’s chapter 61A program that allows farmers to pay a lower tax on actively farmed land, but which gives the town the right of first refusal to acquire the property.

Sidney Chang, a representative for land owner Chang Family Trust of South Deerfield, said the solar will be a better use than farming has been, with a challenge to find someone to rent the land.

“The land there is not really good for growing vegetables,” Chang said, observing that it is too wet and that “I almost have to pay the guy to use it.”

Chang said it is better to make green energy and contribute to society that way.

Sawicki said the solar would only be on site for 25 years, at which time all material would be recycled. The soil would remain intact when the project is built.

The Planning Board might require no grading or removing of top soil as part of the conditions.

Bernie Smiarowski, whose Teddy Smiarowski Farm is just to the south of the solar site, told the Planning Board he would like to see the land remain in farming and agriculture.

Another farmer, Darryl Williams of Luther Belden Farm, said that the field can produce good hay and corn, even when the soil is wet.

Planning Board Chairman Robert Wagner said the property has 1,165 feet of road frontage, meaning that if solar is not put there, it could be instead used for five homes.

The road between Hatfield and Whately, Wagner said, is a premiere vista in western Massachusetts in terms of farm ground, and any solar development should be appropriately screened from the road. Both cedar fencing and arborvitae are being proposed as a way to shield the solar from neighbors.

Sawicki said the project can’t be scaled back too much or it wouldn’t be cost effective, meaning it needs to remain close to the road, unless some of the solar arrays can be put in Whately.

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


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