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COLRAIN – Voters have agreed to put a four-month hold on commercial-scale windmill proposals but not on large solar farms.
Although the town Planning Board proposed a moratorium on both energy systems, Planning Board Chairwoman Joan Rockwell asked Monday’s special town meeting to remove solar from the moratorium, apparently at least in part because a well-respected local farmer is considering a solar farm.
“We’re eliminating solar (from the moratorium) because we feel we can put together that bylaw fairly easily,” she explained. “Wind is more complicated, and we don’t have all the data on wind. There aren’t a lot of issues with solar.”
Rockwell said the board is likely to have a solar bylaw proposal by the fall, but putting solar proposals in a moratorium from now through July 12 would prevent local landowners from taking advantage of state incentives that are available this year. She said that photovoltaic systems are also easier to install and to remove than are 300-foot tall wind turbines.
Some residents argued that solar power should be included on the moratorium. One woman said they must be placed near the power lines to connect to the grid, are ugly and could affect property values.
“Photovoltaic is just as intrusive as wind,” said Francis Ryan. “You’re talking about 10acres,” he said, adding that a home roof-top PV generates between 3 and 5 kilowatts of power, while a 35-kWsystem “is going to be intrusive. It’s going to be ugly,” he said.
“We’ve passed a right-to-farm bylaw, and we wanted to support farmers in their ability to make a Iiving,” Emma Stammas countered. “One of the things farmers can create is energy.” She argued that solar issues “are not that difficult,” and that PV installations could help create jobs and keep the town’s farms “from going out of business.”
Farmer Sherry Hager said her farm has been considering a PV facility in which the PV panels are secured on poles, several feet above the ground, which permits the grounds beneath it to be used for livestock grazing or for crops that can tolerate partial shade.
“I’m trying to comprehend the difference between (the special permit process for) a factory and for this,” she said. “Why are these issues any different? Both would have to go before all these boards, so why are we singling out these technologies? I agree with you about the wind, but solar has been around for a long time.”
The moratorium, which was recommended by both the Planning Board and Board of Selectmen, will prevent wind-turbine proposals from being submitted to the town until July 12. Town Moderator Michael Slowinski said it’s possible that town officials may ask for an extension at this spring’s annual town meeting.
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