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Chicopee officials creating ordinance to regulate solar, wind energy generation

CHICOPEE – Faced with an increasing interest in renewable energy generation, the Planning Board and Planning Department is creating an ordinance to develop guidelines for those interested in generating power from sun or wind.

The Planning Board recently reviewed a draft of the renewable energy ordinance, recommended some changes and decided to continue working on it before voting to add it to the city’s rules and regulations.

“The purpose of this ordinance is to promote the use of renewable energy systems,” the ordinance says.

It is also designed to set standards for the placement, operation and monitoring of the systems.

It allows solar generation for on-site use with no special permit for homes and businesses, including commercial and industrial buildings. Larger operations designed to generate power for off-site use will need a special permit.

The ordinance regulates wind power generation more and bans pole mounted systems. It does allow wind conversion systems that are integrated in a building without a special permit.

The reason for banning pole mounted windmills is they create continuous noise, City Planner Catherine L. Brown said.

The city already bans outdoor wood burning boilers through the Health Department, but that is also included in the ordinance to make it easier to find, she said.

Chicopee has one about 10,000-panel solar farm off Pendleton Street operated by the Citizens Energy Corp. The property is owned by St. Stanislaus Church and is leased to the energy company.

When the farm was proposed about a year ago, the city had no ordinances regulating renewable energy. The corporation voluntarily agreed to go through the site planning review process then.

Under the proposal, even the smaller installation of solar panels for on-site will have to follow some regulations, including trying to limit the negative visual impacts on neighborhoods.

In the draft ordinance, roof-mounted solar panels are permitted but cannot exceed overall building height limits if they are not flush with the roof. Those mounted on the ground will have to meet with regulations for accessory structures including setback requirements.

Larger systems, mainly known as solar farms, must be set back at least 50 feet from the property line, have a security system, limited land clearing, an operation and maintenance plan and screenings, including fences and evergreens.

“I like that once it is defunct, it goes away,” said Ronald M. Czelusniak, a board member.

The ordinance proposal requires owners of larger farms to provide a surety bond to cover the cost or removing the equipment and to remediate the landscaping.

The proposal also calls for owners of the systems that are generating electricity for the site to enter into an interconnection agreement with the utility company that operates the electrical grid, which is typically Chicopee Electric Light Company.

Owners who must seek a special permit are required to provide information in writing they have notified the utility company, the ordinance proposal says.