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Members of the Lanesborough Planning Board inspect the solar array at 248 North Main St.

Lanesborough Planning Board Extends Solar Permits

By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Correspondent
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Representatives of solar developer Engie North America address the Planning Board on Monday night.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Solar power was the topic of the evening at the Planning Board meeting on Monday night as the board extended permits for three large commercial solar operations. 
 
Engie North America Inc. was seeking an extension to special permits previously issued for projects at 405 South Main St. (Skyline Country Club), 550 North Main St. (Pillar LLC), and land on Partridge Road owned by Petricca Development. The substantial use permit expired on Aug. 20 and the company is seeking an extension to the end of the year. The extension was made necessary by recent snags in obtaining the panels.
 
"We can get the panels, but in mid-June there was an exemption that was put in on bifacial (two-sided) solar panels to the tariffs that are being imposed on imported solar panels," said Matt Singer, project developer for Engie. "What that did was really turn the solar module market upside down. We were pretty far along with a supplier, ready to finalize a deal, then the market changed overnight and [the supplier] essentially backed out and we had to line up a new supplier. Which we did."
 
All the sites had minor issues that were addressed by Engie.
 
The solar field at 550 North Main St. will have utility poles close to the road that most felt would be an eyesore.
 
"We care what the Route 7 corridor looks like," said board member Gwen Miller. "And now the new iteration will have six utility poles visible."
 
Singer gave a simple explanation when board member Joseph Tybrus asked if it was necessary the poles be located so close to the road or could they be moved farther up the property: "They serve as a disconnect to the existing distribution on the street so because the poles run along Main Street that's where they need to be.
 
Andy Seward, project manager for Engie added, "Technically, from an engineer's point of view, this could absolutely be done but interconnection requirements as written by Eversource (the utility company) show how close it should be."
 
The project at Skyline Country Club should be an easier build.
 
"In terms of a solar array, you can't pick a much better site for a project," Singer said. "There's no need for tree clearing, very low slope, or much of anything."
 
Chairman Jamie Szczepeniak brought up potentially losing the golf course.
 
"I was under the impression that this project was going to save the clubhouse and a nine-hole golf course," he said. "I spoke with the owner at an event there Saturday and he is looking to close it down after this is up and running. It's certainly his prerogative but I think it's a shame."
 
The owner of Skyline CC, James Mitus, had spoken to Engie about stockpiling valuable topsoil, especially from the putting green areas, for resale. Szczepeniak was clear that, as the project was proposed and permitted, this would not be allowed.
 
"If anything develops, you guys see this board again with what your intentions are," he said.
 
Singer said they have only been preliminary discussions and if anything changed he would approach the board. 
 
Szczepeniak asked the Engie representatives present if they would be interested in the entire site should the golf course cease operations. They said they would but listed a litany of reasons why that would be a long process. Not the least of which was Massachusetts' complicated regulations regarding tying arrays into an existing electrical service. 
 
The Partridge road site was viewed as a prime location for solar by Szczepeniak.
 
"This was my favorite project when it first came to this board," he said. "Because of the location of it, where it couldn't be seen." 
 
The site is currently owned by Petricca Development LLC. A parcel of land will be conveyed to Greg Petricca on which he intends to build a residence. He will also lease a portion of the land to Engie for the solar project. 
 
Michael MacDonald, part time general counsel for Petricca, went through the process with the board.
 
"We've been around with the Engie folks on how to address the frontage issue on Partridge Road, we've explored five or six different options," he said. "Greg has carved out a parcel of land on which he intends to build his house … the remainder of the parcel will be conveyed unto Greg and by operation of law the two lots merge. Greg would then lease that back portion to Engie."
 
Engie intends to have any issues sorted out within the next two months and mobilize operations in November. The representatives said they expect to take possession of the solar panels by April and be operational by September 2020.
 
Engie is the third company to take control of these projects. Both TJA Solar and Eversource have been involved in the past. They've installed and manage 500 megawatts of solar power in the United States.
 
All three permit extensions were approved by a 4-0 vote with Barbara Hassan abstaining as she was not on the board when the original permits were granted.
 
A site visit was conducted immediately prior to the public hearings on Monday at a currently operating solar array at 248 North Main St. BVD Solar of Pittsfield operates the site and agreed to site visits as a requisite to renew its licenses. The board is generally happy with the finished project but had some concerns regarding water runoff management and having room for emergency vehicle turnarounds. The board decided to table the issue until the October meeting. 
 
The board briefly touched on a future use study they received for the former Berkshire Mall. The 204-page study was conducted by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and can be found on the town website by searching for "Berkshire Mall Reuse." There was no discussion on the report as Szczepeniak wanted everybody to have a chance to digest it.

Tags: Planning Board,   solar array,   

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Pittsfield Airport to Serve as Hub For Disaster Preparedness

By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Correspondent

Thomas Grady, left, Robert Czerwinski, and Lucy Britton at Wednesday's Central Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee meeting.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Berkshire County has received a total of $71,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a "point of distribution," or POD, training grant to aid residents in the event of a public disaster or emergency. 
 
The Central Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee announced the grants at its meeting Wednesday morning in Lanesborough.
 
Central Berkshire received $25,000 while the Northern and Southern Berkshire committees each were awarded $23,000 from the highly competitive grant program.
 
Bruce Augusti from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency's regional office in Agawam was in attendance to break the news and give credit to the parties involved.
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