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Shutesbury Town Meeting agrees to explore solar contract

Shutesbury e_SEmD Residents have given town officials permission to pursue a long-term agreement with a private company to host a solar array for up to 25 years.

That go-ahead was among the votes taken at a special Town Meeting last week that also resulted in the re-establishment of floodplain districts in the town, as well as several payment transfers.

Under the terms of the Massachusetts Green Community Act, the town could collect revenues through a usage metering arrangement in exchange for allowing a partner company to transfer solar power across Shutesbury’s electric grid. Town officials stressed that the article was intended as a preliminary step rather than a binding commitment.

“No action will be taken until the board completes negotiations and sees that the town is getting the best deal possible,” said Rebecca Torres, Shutesbury’s town administrator. Town officials have been in discussions with W.D. Cowls Inc. of Amherst over two possible sites the company owns for a solar array, one at the existing power substation on Sandhill Road and the other on West Pelham Road.

A proposed metering rate of 0.5 cents per kilowatt/hour of usage at either one of the sites could raise approximately $15,000 per year for Shutesbury. “It’s unlikely that the town would build its own solar array on this size any time soon,” said Torres, who added that a swift negotiating timeline would be in the town’s best interest to maintain interest from the company.

“We’ve been moving slowly as we explore all the options, but if we don’t get voter approval for this, potential partners might decide to move on,” she said.

Procedural issues had delayed the floodplain establishment plan approved by voters at the annual Town Meeting in April. The final measure accepted by voters last week bundled together four changes to the town’s bylaws that would establish floodplain overlay zones over qualifying town property. “Some mortgage lenders will require flood preparedness from the town so that we can ensure protection for the affected homeowners,” said Jeff Lacy, an environmental planner with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, who had worked on the changes with other town officials.

The plan will use federal maps to determine areas under threat from a “100-year storm” and will impose requirements for future development in those areas and mandate regulatory channels and other preventive measures along vulnerable stretches of waterway. Lacy said that the town hadn’t had an effective flooding plan since 1980.

Voters also approved transfers from the general fund to pay expenses for the Board of Assessors and to cover a recycling contract between the town and Duseau Trucking of Amherst, totaling $625. They also said yes to a payment of $10,277.00 to Verizon, part of a larger settlement between the service provider and partner municipalities in Massachusetts stemming from a 2009 dispute between the state and the utility over a change in valuation of the company’s taxable property that year.

The meeting lasted less than an hour, and all measures were approved unanimously. Memories of a more contentious period in town politics did surface concerning the article to present Town Clerk Leslie Bracebridge with $5,000 in back pay for overtime hours. She worked those hours earlier this year during the extended debate over a proposed library renovation that spurred local controversy and national attention. “I wasn’t sure if we would have to do another recount,” said Select Board member J. April Stein after the vote was taken. But the extra funds were approved unanimously, without any vocal objection from those present.

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