Solar array bylaw goes to voters on Oct. 26
Date: 10/12/2010Oct. 11, 2010
By Chris Maza
Reminder Assistant Editor
LONGMEADOW -- At its Oct. 6 meeting, the Planning Board voted to recommend an article for the Special Town Meeting on Oct. 26, which would call for a vote on a bylaw ammendment that would allow the construction of a large-scale solar array in the town's agricultural zone.
"We must bring the law up to date with the state law," Planning Board Chair Walter Gunn said. "This is also being reviewed by the town council. When we put together our long-term plan seven years ago, we didn't address sustainability and energy efficiency."
The six-page bylaw change covers everything from siting to installation and maintenance to decommissioning of the array and was written from a model bylaw and altered to fit the town's needs.
"The purpose of this is to number one, comply with state law and, number two, have the bylaw well-written enough to protect the town," Gunn said.
The part of the bylaw that will have the most immediate impact is the as-of-rite siting, which would allow the development of such an array "without the need for a special permit, variance, amendment, waiver, or other discretionary approval." It is currently against the law to do so.
This bylaw would only affect agricultural property that is not in the floodplain and is not conservation land. Because of as-or-right siting laws in Massachusetts, there are already no restrictions regarding the use of solar panels on residential property, according Gunn.
The bylaw will require the array to be ground-mounted and that a building permit be obtained before development. It also requires a complete site and design review by the Planning Board. It also states that the town will not be responsible for the construction or demolition of the array. If the electric company decides to discontinue use of the array, it is responsible for dismantling it within 150 days of the cessation of operations at the site.
The proposed solar array would be located on top of the old town landfill off of Birnie Road, which was capped in 1969. According to the Select Board's Mark Gold, who has been working on the solar array project and answered questions at the Planning Board's open hearing, the array would span somewhere between four and six acres of the landfill, which is approximately 16.5 acres.
When asked if it was safe to develop this kind of construction on the landfill because of concerns about methane and other gasses leaking out, Gold replied, "According to a study we did, the dump has no methane."
Glare or "fugitive reflection" was another concern voiced by town residents and Gold said that, too, has been looked into.
"We were concerned about that because of the flight path planes take to Bradley [International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn.]," Gold said. "We checked with Bradley and they said that because the panels are black, they are not considered reflective."
Longmeadow will not own the energy produced by the array. Gold said the town would lease the land to whatever electric company wishes to develop the array, which would bring in revenue. In addition to that, Longmeadow would buy its energy for the town's buildings at a reduced rate.
"Greenfield has a solar array and they're about six months ahead of us and they are paying one cent per kilowatt-hour (kWh)," Gold said, adding that Longmeadow currently pays 11 cents per kWh.
Gold added that the town's municipal buildings used 6 million kWh last year and a solar array can offer the town approximately 2 million kW-h per year, or 33 percent of the total energy needed.
The array would also benefit the electric company because, in the future, 30 percent of its energy must come from renewable resources.