Pittsfield OKs site plan for solar array project on Hancock Shaker Village property


PITTSFIELD — A solar power generating array planned for Hancock Shaker Village property in Pittsfield has won Community Development Board approval.

The board unanimously approved a project site plan on Monday after a presentation by Steven Mack of Foresight Land Services, and Robert Knowles of Renewable Energy Massachusetts, representing the developer, and a short public hearing during which no strong opposition was expressed.

The photovoltaic system on Hancock Shaker Village land off Route 20 and Route 41 is one of three sections on the 750 acres surrounding the living history museum that are proposed for solar arrays. Two other parcels are located in nearby Hancock, and developers also are seeking permits for those town sites.

A special permit for work in flood plain areas of the Pittsfield parcel will be required from the city Zoning Board of Appeals. That board is expected to meet May 11 at City Hall.

An abutter to the 5.5-acre Pittsfield site, Jason Creamer, said he didn't want to oppose the project but did have concerns about where a gravel access road will be located in relation to his family's property. After being shown the location on a map, he didn't raise strong objections.

Mack and Knowles said the array will be screened with newly planted evergreens and set back from Route 20 (West Housatonic Street), and there is a considerable amount of existing foliage to provide screening.

Mack said the site is now meadow, and the impact of the array will be small, consisting of posts for the solar panels and screwlike anchors. The panels will be tilted at an angle toward the sun, with the lower ridge about 3 feet off the grand and the top edge at about 10 feet.

Hancock Shaker officials have said the array will not be within the living museum village's viewshed.

Board Chairwoman Sheila Irvin asked for assurances that the natural screening and the site will be maintained over time. "Route 20 is the entranceway to our city," she said, adding that the area is now scenic.

At her request, a maintenance plan for the project will be filed with the city.

Irvin noted that the site plan was the focus on the board, while the ZBA will deal with the special permit for the project. The Community Development Board did vote to recommend that the permit be issued.

Earlier, the Conservation Commission approved a set of conditions for work in wetlands buffer zones on the parcel.

The developers are working with Hancock Shaker Village to erect three solar power generation arrays capable of producing a total of 5 megawatts of electricity. The facilities would provide lease income for the museum for up to a 30-year period, officials said.

Renewable Energy Massachusetts, based in Cambridge, is working on the project with developer Syncarpha Capital, a New York-based private equity firm that develops, owns and operates utility scale photovoltaic energy systems in the United States and Canada.

Syncarpha and REM also co-developed a solar project at Palmer Airfield and others in Leominster, Bolton and Stow. And Syncarpha developed a solar project at the former North Adams landfill site.

REM is the local site acquisition, permitting and development partner in the projects. The project is expected to produce approximately 8.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually.

Syncarpha intends to form individual limited liability corporations to operate each of the solar array sites on the village property. Each of the interrelated facilities, to be developed simultaneously, would be eligible for federal tax credits.

The energy generated would be fed into the Eversource power grid, and the three array ownership entities would be set up as Community Shared Solar facilities. That means residents of the Berkshires who are Eversource customers can buy energy net-metering credits at a discount and realize energy savings.

Knowles said Eversource customers in the area, such as Creamer, could purchase the credits through the CSS at a discount of about 10 percent.

Syncarpha plans to sell half of the credits to residential customers of the utility and is seeking municipalities or educational institutions to contract to receive the rest of the credits.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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