Town officials to vet solar project moratorium bylaw in Amherst

  • View of an approximately 30-acre solar farm north of Pulpit Hill Road in Amherst on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, November 29, 2021

AMHERST — An 18-month moratorium on large-scale solar projects, already narrowly supported by the Town Council earlier in November, will continue making its way through municipal hearings.

But whether there is still urgency in getting the temporary bylaw in place is uncertain as Town Manager Paul Bockelman informed councilors at their meeting Monday that an 11-megawatt project, on about 100 acres of wooded land off Shutesbury Road, has been withdrawn by Amp Energy of Ontario, Canada.

The project was proposed for land owned by W.D. Cowls Inc., south of homes and near the Pelham and Shutesbury town lines.

Thomas Reidy, an attorney with Bacon Wilson PC of Amherst, submitted a letter to town planners Tuesday formally asking for the withdrawal of the proposal, without prejudice, from the Zoning Board of Appeals. A similar letter of withdrawal has not been received by the Conservation Commission, the other town board examining the project.

The moratorium proposal, which had been sent to the Community Resources Committee and Planning Board for hearings by a 7-6 council vote on Nov. 8, was reconsidered at the request of At-Large Councilors Andy Steinberg and Mandi Jo Hanneke. It would 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.”

Councilors voted 9-4 on Monday to reaffirm its initial decision to refer the bylaw to committee for hearings.

The council would need to adopt the moratorium by a two-thirds majority for it to go into effect. That vote isn’t likely until January, following the swearing in of a new council.

Council President Lynn Griesemer said town planning staff recommended the 18-month period so it could develop, and the town could get in place, a solar siting bylaw.

Councilor Pat DeAngelis said the moratorium is not about stopping a project. “A moratorium will provide us that planning time,” DeAngelis said.

Hanneke said a solar siting bylaw could be developed without a moratorium, and District 4 Councilor Steve Schreiber called moratoriums a “nuclear option” that he opposes.