Second solar array could mean last round for Skyline Country Club

Skyline Country Club in Lanesborough, shown in 2013, could be in its final season. A solar company is expected to begin building an array on the back nine in the fall, and another company is seeking approval to build one on the front nine.

LANESBOROUGH — The Berkshires could soon lose one of its bucolic golf courses to green energy.

The owner of Skyline Country Club already has a deal to allow a solar development on the back nine holes of the 18-hole course on South Main Street (Route 7). That project is expected to begin on the north side of the property in the fall after the course closes for the season.

Now a second developer is lining up plans to build an array on the front nine, which would mean the end of the course's 57-year run. Owner Jim Mitus said it's unclear whether the course would reopen at all next year.

Skyline opened as a nine-hole course in 1963, doubling in size by 1994.

Pillar LLC of New Bedford is seeking a special permit from the Planning Board to install an estimated 5-megawatt solar array on the southern portion of the course.

Pillar's array would sit on 33 acres, surrounded by a 6-foot chain-link fence and require little, if any, clearing of the land, according to the project's design firm, Guntlow & Associates of Williamstown.

"It's already cleared for us," said Guntlow engineer Bill Bonnet, during a virtual public hearing on the project. "It's an ideal site for a solar area."

He noted the land surrounding the dogleg-shaped array would naturally return to open meadow.

Pillar would tie into Eversource, the electric utility serving Lanesborough.

The Planning Board continued the hearing until its monthly meeting Sept. 21, possibly an in-person, outdoor meeting in the parking lot of Town Hall.

Members expressed concerns about erosion control of the steep terrain, and wondered how the town could gain financial benefit — upfront — from the project.

The board is exploring whether it could secure a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement with Pillar or the landowner prior to voting on the special permit.

"The town needs to see revenue based on the speculation of construction," said board Chairman Jamie Szczepaniak. "I can't get behind [Pillar] without that in place."

The town did not seek a PILOT deal from the several other solar developers to whom it has granted permits, including TGA Clean Energy, also of New Bedford.

The board two years ago approved that company to build a 4.5-megawatt, ground-mounted solar array on the other Skyline parcel.

Currently, state law does not allow municipalities to directly tax a solar array, according to Andrew Groff, the town's part-time professional planner.

Groff said he would discuss with Town Manager Kelli Robbins before Sept. 21 whether a PILOT agreement is feasible.

As for erosion control, the board wants conditions regarding land clearing and stripping of soil to prepare the site for construction.

Pillar plans to install the solar panels using as much of the existing grade of the property as possible to minimize any earth moving.

Board member Barbara Davis-Hassan said she is worried about washouts from the roadway serving the solar array.

"If you don't pave, you'll lose [land] in the first year," she told Guntlow officials.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com.