Lee solar vote awaits access road plan

LEE — A large green energy project is on hold until the developer figures out how best to reach the site near the Massachusetts Turnpike to build a 3.3-megawatt solar plant.

The Lee Planning Board has postponed until at least Feb. 27 its vote on the $10 million proposal, giving Eversource more time to design a single access road from Route 20.

"One of the main things we review is [whether it is] safe to get in and out of that site," board member Peter Bluhm said.

Access, obtaining easements, aesthetics and impact on neighbors' property values were among the issues abutters and the board raised during Monday's public review of the proposal.

Eversource wants to install ground-mounted solar panels on half of its nearly 26-acre tract of land on the southerly side of the turnpike, just east of Exit 2.

If approved by the town, construction would begin this spring, wrapping up this fall, according to company officials.

Utility representative Amy Voisine-Shea identified two possible access points: from the East Lee Package Store on Water Street or a residential rental property at 417/419 Chapel St. The latter may be the best option as it has an existing farm road extending to the Eversource site, according to owner Garth Story.

Neighbors more worried about the visual impact of the 9,500 ground-mounted solar panels were assured by utility officials it will be naturally screened from view.

Arnold Kelly, whose home would be closest to the solar array fears the the project could impact his attempt to sell his house in the spring.

"When talking about someone who's been there for more than 30 years, [property values] are a concern to him," said Kimberly Kelly, speaking on behalf of her father.

Voisine-Shea tried to allay those fears.

"I don't think anybody will see," she said. "I haven't seen property values go down because of our other projects."

Eversource already has a solar facility operating in Pittsfield's Williams Stanley Business Park and two in Springfield, totaling 8 megawatts.

The Lee array would help double the utility's current solar generating power in Western Massachusetts to 16 megawatts, as Lanesborough recently approved a 5.2-megawatt solar plant on company property off that town's North Main Street.

The utility also is seeking a second Pittsfield facility, a 2.2-megawatt array on land it owns at 327 Partridge Road, while exploring whether to build one in Hancock.

The electricity from these and future solar projects would be fed directly into the power grid.

The construction cost would be spread among all Massachusetts Eversource customers, offset by the savings of producing cheaper-than-usual solar powered electricity, utility officials said.

"We anticipate we can produce solar energy at about 18 cents a kilowatt hour, compared to upward of 50 cents per kilowatt hour for power produced at some existing solar facilities in the commonwealth," company officials stated.

The company's increase in solar projects comes on the heels of the last summer's approval by the state Legislature of an energy bill allowing utilities to maintain up to 70 megawatts of solar power.

Reach staff writer Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.


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