The three proposed arrays, on property owned by Four Star Farms and the L’Etoile family, are being submitted as three separate applications, and may be approved or denied by the PlanningBoard individually. The board first reviewed the idea in November, and has since held regular public hearings to get residents’ feedback.
Although Nathan L’Etoile has heard a tentative date of May 20 for Planning Board deliberations, the meeting has not yet been posted.
“Array A,” the largest of the three arrays at roughly 26 acres, would generate about 4 megawatts of power and be located along Pine Meadow Road in a eld around the bend from Riverview Road. The second array, “Array B,” would generate about 6 megawatts of power through 1,400panels and be located across from the Four Star Farms main building. A third small array, roughly 2 acres, “Array C,” would be located on the Connecticut River side of Pine MeadowRoad and generate a half-megawatt of power.
Jackie Firsty, a project developer for Boston-based BlueWave Solar, spoke with the Greenfield Recorder about the proposed project after the Planning Board closed its public hearing in April.Dual-use projects like this one, she said, are intended to allow landowners to maximize their farming opportunities while housing a solar project. She said BlueWave Solar is actively constructing two other dual-use solar projects in the state, in Westport and Grafton.
"We’ve kind of been working with the state from the beginning to create a dual-use policy that makes sense for a solar program,” Firsty said. “(Dual-use solar) is something that BlueWave has really dedicated a lot of company time and energy toward, and we really do see it as the future of solar development in the Northeast,” Firsty continued. “It really is, in our mind, a win-win and a really sustainable way to build solar projects. … Our mission is to revolutionize energy with simple solutions, and in our mind the most simple solution is to use the land as efficiently as possible and in a way that it was already being used.”
She said BlueWave Solar has aimed to take as much community feedback as possible, and cooperate with concerned residents by providing different options for certain aspects of the project during the Planning Board’s review.
Residents have complained about the scale of the project, and its zoning impact, throughout the public hearing process. Neighbors have voiced concerns about the visual impact of covering scenic fields with solar panels, as well as the loss of “prime farmland.”
In the case of this project, BlueWave is working with the L’Etoile family, owners of Four StarFarms. The solar arrays are being proposed on parcels of their property of Pine Meadow Road, and the land beneath the panels would be leased to Jesse Robertson-DuBois of Finicky Farm to be used as pasture for goats and sheep. The L’Etoiles have stated this will keep their land in agricultural use, while giving the fields time to “rest” before being returned to crop farming.
“I’ve been impressed with people’s willingness to speak up and voice their concerns,” Nathan L’Etoile said.
While he said BlueWave Solar “may not be capable of making everyone happy,” he said it was important that all residents who have concerns be heard so the company can see what it can accommodate. He pointed to BlueWave Solar providing two interconnection point options following resident concerns of visual impact, allowing the Planning Board to determine which option is preferable. Additionally, he noted BlueWave Solar’s willingness to participate in historical and Indigenous surveys of the land.
“The impact this project is going to have on farmland in Massachusetts is pretty big,” L’Etoile said. “If this project is done wrong, it’s going to have a negative effect on the ability to do future projects like this. If done right, it’s going to lead the way for how to do it right. ... I think this is going to be done right, and it’s going to be good for the community and good for agriculture.”
Firsty also said the project would improve the L’Etoiles’ farm and business operations by bringing in Phase 3 power and “cleaner” energy. While BlueWave Solar does not have control over electricity rates for area customers as the developer, she noted the company is “footing the bills” for infrastructure upgrades associated with the project.
“We do have control over putting money, that is not taxpayer money, into upgrading the grid infrastructure,” Firsty said. “Normally, the way utilities work is it is all rate payer-funded infrastructure upgrades.”
For example, she said the L’Etoiles have some solar already on their property, but they currently have to turn it off to run a rotary phase converter when using some of their hops processing equipment. They looked into upgrading to Phase 3 power, but Firsty said it was too expensive todo on their own.
“It’s definitely not lost on any of us that there’s the potential to have a brewery that is being supplied by the farm next door, and also powered by clean energy from across the street,” Firsty said. “That overall picture … the hyper-local nature of this project really excites us.”
In addition to being “cleaner” energy, these upgrades will also help build a more resilient electric grid, potentially avoiding power outages from windstorms or other weather events.
“I’ve heard abutters mention they’re not seeing issues with power, but businesses along PineMeadow are,” Firsty said. “Whitney Trucking is a business that would benefit from having three-phase power because they also have to use rotary phase converters to work some of their equipment on the single-phase power they currently use.”
If the solar arrays are approved, the L’Etoiles will receive income both from leasing toRobertson-DuBois for his farming operation, and from leasing the land to the solar owners who purchase the project from BlueWave Solar and maintain the arrays. The initial agreement for the life of the project is for 20 years, but it can be renegotiated and extended. Part of the lease the L’Etoiles would have with the solar owners would require that once the project ends, they follow a decommission plan and return the land to the condition it was in before the arrays were installed.
This article & photograph originally appeared in a Greenfield Recorder post on May 4th, 2021.