Athol to vote on solar array moratorium  

  • At Tuesday’s Select Board meeting, Secret Lake Road residents Lori Kay and William Hogan discussed concerns over two solar arrays proposed for the Lyons Hill/Secret Lake neighborhood. Listening to the presentation are, from left — Town Counsel John Barrett, Select Board members William Chiasson and Stephen Raymond, and Chair Rebecca Bialecki. Greg Vine

  • Athol Director of Planning and Development Eric Smith, left, and Planning Board Chair David Small discuss the possible implementation of a solar array moratorium at Tuesday’s meeting of the Select Board. Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 6/6/2019 9:55:27 PM

ATHOL – The Selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday night to schedule a Special Town Meeting for later this summer to give Athol residents the chance to decide if a temporary moratorium on the construction of solar farms should be enacted. The vote followed a presentation by a pair of Secret Lake Road residents who expressed concerns over two proposed solar arrays that would require the clear-cutting of a total of some 94 acres of woodlands on two parcels of land between Lyons Hill Road and the western shores of Secret Lake.

While showing the board a map illustrating the extent of the clear-cutting, William Hogan and Lori Kay contended the arrays – one proposed by Hurlburth Solar LLC, the other by Lyons Hill Solar LLC – would result in increased stormwater runoff, a decrease in property values, and ruined aesthetics of the neighborhood.

“These plans are likely to change due to wetlands delineations,” said Hogan, “but these are the only plans that show the solar systems as proposed (in November). They have not updated any of these plans. One of the major concerns is clear-cutting in this location 40 feet from the lake, and it’s within the 75 foot buffer. Between the two, 94 acres – almost double the size of Secret Lake – in terms of clear-cut forest. The terrain is very difficult in terms of erosion, sedimentation control, and storm water runoff. The people on Lyons Hill have spoken to (the) Conservation (Commission) and said they already have existing runoff issues, and this will certainly exacerbate it.”

“I just want to make sure you understand the magnitude of these two projects,” he continued. “Compare it to Adams Farm. Adams Farm is a 1-megawatt facility; as I understand it, each of these as proposed is 5-megawatts. This is basically the size of 10 Adams Farms. This will create a huge visual impact on adjoining property owners and, we think, a significant impact on property values for the people who look across the lake at these facilities.”

Hogan then suggested implementation of a moratorium to last at least through October 2020, in order to give the town time to craft new zoning regulations to cover solar arrays. He suggested a special town meeting to enact the moratorium could be called for through a citizen’s initiative, which would require collecting the signatures of 200 registered voters, by a vote of the board, or by placing an article on the warrant of the fall town meeting in October.

Athol Planning and Development Director Eric Smith and Planning Board Chair David Small then spoke to the board about the advisability of a moratorium.

“How do we go about getting some control over these clear-cut, solar panel arrays?” asked Select Board member Stephen Raymond. “We had an issue with the Adams Farm array. I think we got the wool pulled over our eyes on that one.”

Board Chair Rebecca Bialecki said there will be an article on the fall town meeting warrant which would require solar arrays proposed in areas zoned Residential C, which covers 78 percent of the town. Under the existing bylaw, such arrays are allowed “by right.” She explained that several proposed arrays have currently not received permits and that the process would likely carry the permitting process beyond the fall meeting, meaning they would be covered by the new regulations, if enacted by the voters.

Smith said there currently exists a “natural moratorium” in place due to complications with National Grid’s electrical system infrastructure. In essence, the power company is unable to accept more power generated by solar arrays until those issues are addressed.

Small cautioned that property owners in some towns where solar moratoriums have been proposed threatened to sell their parcels to housing developers to construct residential subdivisions in lieu of being able to sell them to solar developers.

“It’s not just a black and white issue,” said Small. “We’re willing to tackle (the proposed moratorium), but it’s certainly going to require some input from the public. Not everyone is going to be happy with this by the way. We’ve bought flack jackets for the board, but we want to do this right.”

Despite Town Manager Shaun Suhoski’s declaration that he doesn’t “generally like moratoriums,” the Select Board, after some discussion, voted unanimously to call for a special town meeting for the specific purpose of considering a temporary halt to solar array construction. The board, however, left open the scheduling of the meeting, although it was proposed at one point that it take place sometime in August.

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