Solar project in Shutesbury moves ahead

Project should provide more electricity than town uses

  • Jeffrey Lacy, a member of the Shutesbury Planning Board, speaks during a meeting June 7, 2016, at Town Hall, when the board voted to approve a special permit requested by Lake Street Development to build a 30-acre solar array on Pratt Corner Road. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 24, 2018

SHUTESBURY — After holdups caused by a federal lawsuit and rigorous examinations of the property by archeologists, the first large solar project in Shutesbury is underway.

Lake Street Development of Chicago recently broke ground on the project to bring photovoltaics to the Wheelock Tract, a 30-acre parcel on Pratt Corner Road owned by W.D. Cowls, Inc.

The project was allowed to begin when a federal lawsuit filed by three Shutesbury and two New Salem residents in August 2016 was dismissed in August 2017, after a judge determined the matter to be out of the court’s jurisdiction.

Prior to the lawsuit, there had been contentious Planning Board meetings, with opponents arguing that the land contains burial grounds or a ceremonial landscape for Native Americans. The board gave the project a special permit, with conditions that the board determined were met in June 2016.

Estimates say that the 5.6-megawatt solar project should produce enough power for 1,050 homes and 2,600 residents. While the power generated by the arrays would be sufficient to meet the electricity needs for the town, it won’t go directly to homes and municipal buildings, but rather into the Eversource utility grid.

W.D. Cowls President Cinda Jones notes that just 1,800 people live in Shutesbury, and there are few other buildings in addition to the homes. “It will be producing more power than the entire town of Shutesbury uses,” Jones said.

The project is to generate $50,000 a year in property taxes.

Jones said the solar project, along with one planned in North Amherst off Pulpit Hill Road, represents a commitment to renewables.

That was shown at Cowls Building Supply, where 390 panels installed on the roof of the building in 2013 produce 120 kilowatt hours per year, more than the electricity the building consumes, according to Evan Jones, who oversees the store.

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