Guest columnist Jeff Lacy: Shutesbury obstructing solar projects?

By JEFF LACY

Published: 07-30-2023 8:01 PM

Dan Winslow’s hard swipe at my town [“Wrongly blocking solar in Shutesbury”] was featured prominently as a guest column in both the Recorder (July 21) and the Gazette the next day. He accuses the town of being intolerant of large-scale, ground-mounted solar installations and of having restrictive zoning bylaws. He also makes assumptions about how Shutesbury and its regulatory boards will behave if presented with solar development proposals.

Yes, Shutesbury’s solar zoning bylaw has many typical zoning standards for solar project magnitude, location, design, and avoidance/mitigation of impacts upon the health, safety, and welfare of residents. But it also has built-in adaptivity and flexibility for applicants in the form of waivers/reductions offered for any aspect of the solar bylaw.

There are criteria for evaluating such waivers/reductions, but they may be granted much more readily than a zoning variance (which is required for other sections of the town’s zoning bylaw). But the writer, in his conclusion that the bylaw leaves only 1% of Shutesbury developable for solar, assumes the town will be inflexible with no waivers or reductions granted. The solar bylaw he complains about has never had a project proposed under it, so how can he know?

These aspersions cast upon our town fly in the face of what Shutesbury has actually done when presented with its first and only ground-mounted solar project. In 2016, the town’s Planning Board, despite vigorous public opposition, approved a discretionary special permit for a 30-acre-plus solar installation as a light industrial use (ironically, for the same large landowner who is now suing the town). This project now generates an amount of electrical energy close to what Shutesbury consumes.

In 2018, the Planning Board approved a special permit modification for this project that increased the number and area of panels and eliminated a costly-to-construct stormwater basin the board found unnecessary. Finally, in 2019 the Planning Board approved another special permit modification request to add on-site battery storage to the installation. The original approval and subsequent permitted modifications have generated ever greater revenues from the installation.

All of which prompts me to ask, are these the actions of a town that is “obstructing solar development?”

Jeff Lacy is a member of the Shutesbury Planning Board, but the views expressed here are his own.

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