Sunday May 6, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The proposed $20 million solar energy project at Ponterril has cleared its first local regulatory hurdle.

The city’s Community Development Board unanimously approved a Con necticut-based company’s site plan for a solar farm on the site of the Pittsfield Family YMCA’s former recreation camp overlooking Pontoosuc Lake.

CTC Electric’s final municipal step is to obtain a special permit from the Pittsfield Zoning Board of Appeals. The ZBA will hold a public hearing on the permit application May 16 at 7 p.m. in City Hall.

CTC wants to install the solar array on 22 acres of the 77-acre parcel on East Acres Road. It would generate three megawatts of electricity that would be sold and transported to Western Massachusetts Electric Co. as part of the power grid on North Street.

The proposal calls for cutting down trees within 100 feet on each side of the solar panels to eliminate any shade near the installation.

However, the project would have a minimum 50-foot buffer of tree-covered land along the border of the property to screen the solar array from the neighbors, according to project engineer James Scalise of SK Design in Pittsfield.

Scalise said the biggest buffer will front Ponterril, making the project aesthetically pleasing to homeowners living across the lake.

"About 300 feet of forest will remain untouched," he told the Community Development Board this week.

In addition, the solar panels will be facing in a south-southeasterly direction away from Pontoosuc. The site won’t be lit at night.

If the project is approved and installed, the site would be off-limits for any other uses, including recreation. Electronic surveillance and a gated entrance would protect the installation.

The pool and existing deteriorating buildings from the former YMCA camp will be demolished and the site re-graded to make way for the solar panels.

CTC Electric would lease the site for $70,000 to $75,000 annually, according to Pittsfield Family YMCA officials. The planned agreement is for 20 years, with two, 10-year options for renewal.

While neighbors support the project, they want assurances the solar panels will be removed if the developer goes belly-up. Neighborhood spokesman Grier Horner asked, and the board agreed, that CTC put up a bond with Pittsfield to ensure money is available to pay for dismantling the solar array.

"We don’t know if this company will be in business 10 years from now," Horner said. "We wish them all the success in the world and don’t expect them to fall flat on their faces."

Ponterril hosting a solar farm is a departure from the YMCA’s attempt to develop the site for housing the last seven years.

The first proposal called for 375 time-share units by a private developer, the last was for 93 residential units offered by the YMCA. While the board approved the smaller project in 2010, it failed to attract a potential builder, YMCA officials have said.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.