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Great Barrington solar farm pushed

GREAT BARRINGTON – A Darien, Conn.-based energy company is proposing to build a 3- to 4-megawatt solar array on property along Seekonk Road – an installation that would be the largest of its kind in the state if it were completed today.

But the project is not without its detractors, as local farming advocates contend the property should be retained for agricultural uses.

CTC Electric has entered into a lease-hold agreement with Harold Shaw to place 12,000 ground-mounted solar panels on his properties along Seekonk and Round Hill roads. The project is in preliminary stages, but it’s expected to cost upward of $15 million to complete and nearly 19 acres of the property would be fenced in to protect the panels.

Shaw, 74, is a former dairy farmer whose family has owned the property for more than a century. He said he couldn’t afford to keep a farm going there and he doubts a younger person could do it either. Shaw said the solar array was better than selling it to be subdivided for residential use, and will produce new revenue for the town.

“There’s not much use for the land right now, so I thought it would help the town out and help the environment.”

Because the site will be decommissioned in 20 to 40 years, it could someday be used for farmland again. Shaw also hopes to keep about half of his land as pastures, so other farmers could lease the land for their livestock.

State law says towns cannot prohibit or
unreasonably regulate the installation of solar energy systems unless it’s “necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare.”

Sean Stanton, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said there are other sites that would be better suited for such an array, saying the use of the farmland is “not the right place. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Stanton said it’s unfortunate that the town doesn’t have more local control over the process, and said he would be more supportive if farm animals were allowed to graze at the site. That same point was made on Thursday when CTC gave an informal presentation the Planning Board, but company officials said it probably wouldn’t be amenable to their financial backers.

CTC plans to go before the Planning Board for site review at its Dec. 8 meeting. The board can only set conditions or restrictions on the project. It’s likely the company will go before the Conservation Commission as well, because of potential wetlands on the property.

Eric Roddy, CTC’s chief executive officer, declined to comment on the farming concerns, and said the site was chosen because it “meets the profile of where we look to site our solar facilities.”