LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Eversource is backing out of building a solar array off North Main. Instead, the company is now pursuing a similarly sized project off Partridge Road.
The Planning Board gave its approval for a 6.6-megawatt array on Partridge Road, near the Pittsfield border and the Berkshire Mall road. The company is looking to lease land from Petricca Construction for the panels. The estimated $10 million project is going to be located near a 2.2-MW array on land Eversource owns in Pittsfield.
The company has approval from the state to build out 70 megawatts of solar, eight of which are already completed, by the end of the year. Locally, the company planned a large project in Lanesborough and a smaller one in Pittsfield. The two projects were part of a dozen across the state to hit that 70-MW target.
After building permits were issued for the North Main Street project, which was approved in December, the company encountered unforeseen right-of-way issues and halted work.
"That site is not being pursued at this point," said Paul Sylvester, a project manager with Burns McDonnell representing Eversource. "This is a potential fill in for some of that work."
The previous site was planned for 5.2 MW so the new proposal is slightly larger. Petricca had already been in contact with Eversource late last year for the Pittsfield project, as the company is an abuttor to that project. Petricca has been expanding throughout land it owns between Route 8 and Partridge Road over the years. The Planning Board on Monday was particularly welcoming to the project, feeling the new location is better than the last.
"I like this one better than the other one. It is in a much better spot," Chairman Jamie Szczepaniak said.
Sylvester called the use of the land a "good neighbor to have" because the panels create minimal noise and will be screened from view. Laura Lefebvre, from the engineering firm TRC, said the project has a simple design, requires minimal grading, and only a small amount of tree removal. There is no lighting involved and the panels will sit 8 feet to 10 feet off the ground.
"This project has been carefully designed to be sensitive to the environment," she said.
While the project is very close to the one in Pittsfield, it is going to be separated. There is a swath of land between the two arrays and each will be fenced in on their own.
At town meeting this year, voters did a approve a new solar bylaw. That has a particular focus on screening and the Planning Board spent much of Monday's public hearing focused on ensuring the screening is adequate — particularly on one corner of the project where the existing tree line is thin.
Planning Board member Joseph Trybus believed that one small section would need additional screening. The board, however, was also careful not to delay the project. The vote ultimately approved Eversource to continue with the project, but that TRC return in a few weeks with a landscaping plan.
The board had considered asking for witness stakes to be put in place, and then take a site visit to understand the visibility from that corner, and then set conditions. But ultimately, it agreed to just condition it pending approval of the final landscaping plan.
The change in locations puts Eversource on a slightly quicker timeline. The array has to be constructed by the end of the year — though the panels might not have an interconnection with the grid right away. The Pittsfield project is under construction.
Eversource is also required to provide a financial security for any future decommissioning. The Planning Board issued that security as a condition for issuance of the building permit.
Lanesborough officials are hoping such a large solar project will bring in some $200,000 in tax revenue per year. The town is also in the midst of pursuing a project on town-owned land on Route 7 that was bought years ago with the intent of using it for a senior center. That would be another possible source of revenue and the town's consultants are in negotiations with an operator for that.
In other business, the Planning Board is supportive of the potential marijuana industry with the passage of legalization last November. It rejected a notion of trying to impose a moratorium. But, the board does want to set guidelines for where any retail, cultivation, or packaging would operate.
"I think anywhere along Route 7 would be fine," Trybus said of retail but added that he thinks any farmer who wants to grow it should have that ability.
Planning Board member Jeff DeChaine, however, said the cultivation isn't going to be like other agricultural uses. He says the cultivation will be inside buildings, with tight security requirements, and fencing.
Nonetheless, the board did come to some consensus in that it could rule out residential areas for the use. But, it opted to keep it in mind and watch how the state Legislature handles the issue.
"We agree we want to allow it in town, we don't want to put a moratorium," DeChaine said.
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