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Buckland Planning Board proposes wind moratorium; public hearing April 18

BUCKLAND – The Buckland Planning Board will hold a public informational hearing Wednesday, April 18 at 7 p.m. in Town Hall to discuss a temporary moratorium on large-scale wind power projects, initiated by the Board, as well as a citizens’ petition calling also for a temporary moratorium on large-scale solar projects – either to be in effect until the 2013 annual town meeting.

Resident Janet Sinclair spearheaded the petition, which includes the requisite 10 verifiable signatures to now appear on the annual town meeting warrant without amendment, although amendments can be made on annual meeting floor.

Local planners and Sinclair agreed at the Planning Board’s March 27 meeting that an amendment will be proposed to extend the moratorium until the 2013 annual meeting, not ‘June 15,2013,” as is written in the petition.

Adoption by voters would effectively amend zoning bylaws to reflect either moratorium until then.

The solar-related petition specifically requests voter approval (at annual town meeting) that “no building permit may be issued … to build a photovoltaic system larger than 35 kilowatts.”

“The reason that the petitioners in Buckland wanted to take this action is because our existing bylaws do not address solar installations in any detail,” said Sinclair. “We know that the state is promoting solar production, as well as wind, and creating very appealing financial incentives for these types of projects. It seems wise to have some language in place that reflects the town’s wishes regarding the siting of solar electricity production, rather than being faced with some big proposal and forcing the Zoning Board, the proponents and the abutters to hash out some complex issues through a special permit process like what happened with biomass in Greenfield and wind in Shelburne.”

Sinclair said the intention of the petition is to afford the town time to study issues and craft long-term regulations “consistent with Buckland’s long-term planning interests” regarding solar installations, which is why planners themselves are bringing a wind moratorium request to residents.

Board members ultimately voted 4-1 at their meeting to support a moratorium to be effective until the 2013 annual meeting on large/commercial photovoltaic generating projects. Board member Chris Skelly did not vote in favor, saying, “Right now I’m not ready to support a moratorium.”

Definitions needed

In crafting the petition article here, Sinclair said she drew on those put forth in Colrain and Heath (as, this week, did Shelburne Planning Board members in crafting a wind moratorium request), noting that she stipulated “large-scale” photovoltaic systems as 35 kilowatts or more, determined in those towns, she said, as the cut-off that would still allow solar to be built for “barns or sugarhouses.”

Buckland Planning Board Chair John Gould asked about the 35-kilowatt threshold.

“It could be an issue of scale and still be for personal use,” he said, adding that he was not yet conversant enough to speak to specific kilowatt mandates.

Board member Ed Grinnell, owner of Eddie’s Wheels, offered that his operation, for instance, uses 11 kilowatts, and thought the 35-kilowatt stipulation was “a lot.”

Sinclair iterated her intention in orchestrating the petition, saying that with subsidies now proposed in the state “we should expect that our farmers will be approached, so this is so you can have the conversation before that happens.”

“You can make three times as much of 20 acres of solar [panel installation] than you can on 20 acres of corn [production],” said Grinnell.

“And skew what happens in land use,” added Gould, nodding in agreement.

Board member Michael Hoberman noted that, “perception could very likely be ‘you guys are trying to tell us what to do.'”

“If you have no guidance and no bylaws, you can get in worse situations,” said Gould, adding that including the solar moratorium discussion at the planned April 18 hearing will allow the opportunity to help define “large-scale” and “commercial” operations.

Renewable energy advisory panel to form

The Planning Board here voted March 8 to propose a wind moratorium to allow time to craft a wind energy bylaw.

Gould noted that Buckland residents shared concern about the proposed Mt. Massaemet wind farm in Shelburne when that project was proposed in August. Although it has since been removed from the table, project initiator Frederick Field can return to Shelburne planners with a new project at any time. Gould said his board and selectmen want to be proactive to address citizens’ concerns.

“Although there has been no expressed interest as yet targeting Buckland for large-scale wind power, citizens expressed concerns to both the Planning Board and Select Board,” Gould said Wednesday. “The boards feel it s prudent to do what is possible to put our own house in order and ensure that our bylaws adequately address the issues and a bylaw process will be undertaken this year. A moratorium on large-scale, commercial or industrial generating facilities is being proposed in the meantime.”

The Board also voted unanimously March 27 to hire Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ Director of Planning and Development Peggy Sloan to assist in crafting renewable energy-governing bylaws.

Gould noted that Sloan suggested using Ashfield’s example, that of an appointed Wind Advisory Committee, to study the issue. Here planners agreed to agreed to move forward to study renewable energy bylaws concerning wind and solar power and to request appointment of a Renewable Energy Advisory Committee with one member from each town board that could be involved in future siting issues (Zoning Board of Appeals, Planning Board, Conservation Commission, Agricultural Commission, etc.) and one selectman. The Planning Board intends to meet with Sloan April 19.