PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Eversource was granted the special permit to construct a 2.2 megawatt solar array on 10 acres of land on Partridge Road.
The project is just one of two in the utility company is seeking to build in the Berkshires this coming year - the other being in Lanesborough — and one of more than a dozen throughout the state. The state is allowing utility companies to own and operate 35 megawatts of solar energy and between Eversource's two companies, it can own up to 70 megawatts
The company owns 36 acres of land on Partridge Road and is looking to use 10 of that for the some 6,000 panels and two or three equipment pads. The closest panel will be 240-feet from the road. A new gravel road will be built off of a currently existing access road, circumventing the array.
Visually, the existing vegetation is expected to shield the array form the neighbors but Eversource is working on a deal with Petricca Industries, who abuts the property to the north, for additional screening. The array will also be protected by an 8-foot tall fence.
"We don't plan to install lighting. We feel that is just a nuisance to the neighbors more than a help," Eversource's Senior Environmental Specialist Amy Voisine-Shea said.
Voisine-Shea said she met with the neighbors to present the project the week before. But, some still raised concerns about noise, water runoff, and visibility.
"You can't hide it from every angle but we are trying to hide it from the closest neighbors," Voisine-Shea said.
Timothy Sullivan lives across the street from the existing utility substation and was unable to attend the neighborhood meeting. He felt there wasn't enough "graphic representation" of the proposal. The area is hilly and Sullivan was concerned with what would happen to the landscape.
"It is rolling landscape up there. Right now you can't see all of the land beyond the row of trees along the street," Sullivan said. "This is not flat land we are talking about. Even at the top of the hill it is sloping."
Neighbor Mark Densmore said he has a child with attention deficient disorder and his concerns would be how his child would react to the noise generated. He asked the Zoning Board of Appeals to review the noise levels and require additional sound buffers if needed.
Meanwhile, Ray Costello remembers when a new pad was installed on the property before and the stormwater management system failed — sending pools of the water into his back yard. He urged the board to review the project after a year to ensure the stormwater systems are working and if not, require Eversource to fix it.
"I'm not opposed to it but I do have a concern with stormwater runoff," Costello said.
Permitting Coordinator Nate Joyner said the stormwater permit is separate. The city's stormwater runoff ordinance requires the developer to have those plans reviewed by the city engineer and receive a permit.
"When it is a wetlands issue, in a case like stormwater management, we can refer to the stormwater management ordinance," Joyner said.
The Zoning Board of Appeals is also asking the company to file a decommissioning plan, as they have with other solar projects in the past.
"We definitely have decommission plans in place. And in the plans it is to return everything and restore the area the way it was," said Project Manager William Blanchard.
Voisine-Shea added that as a regulated utility company, Eversource is required to have dollars allocated for equipment repair and replacement.
In all, the ZBA issued the permit while asking for copies of the decommissioning plan and the agreement with Petricca, a one-year review of the project to address the neighbor's concerns, and that any damage done to Partridge Road during construction be repaired.
"I think it is a good site. The neighbors do have concerns. I think this is the first solar project in which we've asked for a review a year after," ZBA member John Fitzgerald said. "All of the other sites were flat and this one is on a slope so there are some concerns here."
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