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Large solar project hits GB zoning roadblock, heads to ZBA for appeal

Building Inspector Edwin May said the property did not have sufficient frontage for a building lot and is not by right since it sits in a residential/agricultural zone.

Great Barrington — A large commercial solar array proposed for 10 to 12 acres of a 20-acre agricultural lot on West Plain Road has run into a roadblock with the building inspector over town zoning regulations.

The ground-mounted array would generate 3 million kilowatt hours per year, said attorney Peter Puciloski, representing Kearsarge Energy LP of Watertown. That is enough energy to run the equivalent of 230 homes, he added. Kearsarge will lease the land from the owner.

Attorney Peter Puciloski says the building inspector’s decision to reject a building permit for Kearsarge Energy LP’s large commercial solar project was wrong and will appeal the decision to the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Attorney Peter Puciloski says the building inspector’s decision to reject a building permit for Kearsarge Energy LP’s large commercial solar project was wrong and will appeal the decision to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The net metering credits for the project are to be sold to three central Massachusetts municipal entities. And this project adds to a handful of large net metering solar array projects that have gone up over the last year throughout the town, providing it with desperately needed tax revenue and lowering energy costs of the town and the Berkshire Hills Regional School District.

Puciloski had come to the Selectboard Monday, Jan. 23, to present the project and debrief the board on the situation in which building inspector Edwin May said the property did not have sufficient frontage for a building lot and is not by right since it sits in a residential/agricultural zone.

But Puciloski is taking the matter to the Zoning Board of Appeals. He says May’s interpretation was wrong since the only restrictions on solar arrays currently on the books stipulate that such projects don’t compromise public safety or health.

“Does that mean [solar] is allowed everywhere or nowhere?” he later told The Edge. “Right now, you can only limit solar for health, safety…out in this field, it’s hard to make that claim.”

This all might change at the Annual Town Meeting in May, however, since the planning board just drafted up solar zoning bylaws that would cause a project like this one to have to apply for the more rigorous special permit process, timing that board chair Sean Stanton said was “unfortunate.”

The Great Barrington Selectboard Monday. From left: town manager Jennifer Tabakin, chair Sean Stanton, Steve Bannon, Dan Bailly, and Ed Abrahams. Photo: Heather Bellow
The Great Barrington Selectboard Monday. From left: Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin, Chair Sean Stanton, Steve Bannon, Dan Bailly, and Ed Abrahams. Photo: Heather Bellow

But Puciloski said the project would be grandfathered in since the process was started before solar zoning regulations had hit the books.

And there’s one more catch. “Our anxiety about this is that this project is part of a [solar] subsidy plan that requires it to be in operation by May 8 of this year,” Puciloski said.

He told the board the project is unobtrusive; it will be surrounded by a fence and landscaping “to block the view,” Puciloski noted, and “no traffic, no noise, no lights…no addition of a high voltage line.”

And over a period of 20 years, he said, the project will provide more than $400,000 in tax revenue to the town.

The project will go to the planning board for a recommendation, and Kearsage representatives will have a meeting with abutters.

“There’s no better place for this…it will help the owner,” Puciloski said.

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