Our Opinion: Good solar project done in by NIMBYism

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A clean energy project bit the dust in Pittsfield last week before a city board for reasons that are all too common in the city and in the Berkshires.

By a 3-2 vote, the Zoning Board of Appeals rejected a special permit for a 2.6-megawatt solar power facility on about 10 acres of a 61-acre parcel off Churchill Street near the Dan Casey causeway over Onota Lake. (Eagle, April 16). The opposition to the project was basic NIMBYism, which city boards should overcome not concede to.

Solar arrays are not unappealing aesthetically, but nonetheless, landowner Todd Driscoll and Aegis Renewable Energy of Waitsfield, Vermont told the ZBA it would use natural and fence screening to block almost all of the array from neighbors. The original plans had been revised based on neighbors' comments.

It is apparent, however, that nearby residents simply were not going to be appeased no matter what the owner and developer did. This not-in-my-backyard attitude should not have won favor from the ZBA, which should have demanded specific reasons for opposition rather than settle for blanket naysaying.

Early last week, Hancock Shaker Village announced plans to erect three solar power generation arrays on parcels in Pittsfield and Hancock that could produce as much as 5 megawatts of electricity. This would generate enough power to provide lease income for the living history museum for as many as 30 years (Eagle, April 12).

Clean energy and extra revenue are powerful arguments in favor of the project, which will require permits from both Hancock and Pittsfield — including a special permit from the ZBA. The arrays are in relatively isolated areas of Hancock Shaker Village but it is impossible to predict where opposition will emerge from whenever a project is proposed in the city.

This news on the local solar energy front comes in the context of Governor Baker's signing of a bill last week that by raising the cap on solar power that can be sold to the grid freed up a number of projects in the Berkshires and across the state that had been stalled. The bill is not ideal. Perhaps most notably it reduces the reimbursement rate for some projects for reasons that are not justified. Nonetheless it is a worthy law given the opposition to clean energy by the influential fossil fuel industry and its passage was of crucial importance to a growing sector of the energy economy.

No project, of course, should be approved automatically. If opposition comes, however, it must be buttressed by solid information. The foes of the Kinder-Morgan pipeline proposals across the Berkshires and in Otis State Forest provide examples of well-reasoned, well-argued opposition. Opposition to the Churchill Street solar array and, for another example, to the turf field at Berkshire Community College, do not. NIMBYism and/or misinformation should not derail projects, and it is the responsibility of the appropriate boards, whether municipal or state, to see that they do not.


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