At town hall meeting, Berkshire residents and officials talk going green in 'our backyard'

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PITTSFIELD — Investing in solar power should benefit — not be at the expense of — the environment.

Two local state legislators and dozens of businesses and homeowners jointly expressed that sentiment Monday evening during a 90-minute exchange on energy and environmental issues in the commonwealth.

Pittsfield state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Berkshire state Sen. Adam Hinds spoke to and fielded questions from an audience of about 90 people gathered at the Berkshire Athenaeum.

The lawmakers also addressed the impact of fossil fuel-burning vehicles on climate change and a statewide approach to banning foam containers and single-use plastic bags.

The Environmental League of Massachusetts sponsored the latest of several forums the nonprofit educational and advocacy organization has held to spur state lawmakers into conversing with their constituents on energy and environmental concerns and solutions.

ELM is funded by a combination of individual and foundation philanthropy, dues from citizens and organization members, and proceeds from special events, according to the agency's website.

Solar arrays are all well and good, provided they are sited properly and have minimal impact on the landscape, according to Farley-Bouvier.

The Pittsfield Democrat prefers more rooftop solar arrays than large, commercial, ground-mounted ones.

"It's cheaper for a developer to come in and cut down trees to do something for the environment. Let's think about [that approach] for a moment," she said.

Barbara Stringer of Pittsfield says that's the dilemma her neighborhood is facing from a proposed commercial solar project.

"We need to think where to put solar fields, which is like putting a manufacturing site in our backyard," she said.

Pittsfield is among several Berkshire municipalities who recently passed zoning bylaws banning large commercial solar arrays in residential and or agricultural areas.

Hinds understands homeowners' concerns about such projects, but a total ban could actually hurt agriculture.

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"I've heard from plenty of farmers who want to diversify and [solarize] acres they can't use," he said.

Longtime Williamstown environmentalist Nancy Nylen urged wise use of renewable energy to further reduce dependency on fossil-fuel generated electricity.

"As we look at the infrastructure for electric cars, we should make charging stations solar power, not just plugging [the vehicles] back into the power grid," she said.

Electric cars are also a solution to reducing the state's carbon footprint, 40 percent of which is attributed to transportation, according to Hinds.

"I also see a resurgence of rail and public transportation as green initiatives," added the senator, a proponent of reviving passenger train service linking New York City with the Berkshires.

The ultimate goal for Massachusetts, if approved by the Legislature and governor, is Roadmap 2050, a pending bill calling for net-zero emissions in the state in the year 2050.

"It's clearly time to run faster, further, to deal with climate change," Hinds said.

The burden of net-zero emission is expected to fall on the commercial sector.

"The biggest energy users is where the state will demand people make a change," Farley-Bouvier said.

The Pittsfield state representative says there's also momentum on Beacon Hill to enact a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags and foam food containers, primarily a grassroots movement in recent years. Currently, 121 Massachusetts cities and towns, representing more than 50 percent of the state's population, regulate single-use plastic shopping bags, according to the state chapter of the Sierra Club.

Floridan and part-time Berkshire resident Bob Hildebrand praises the commonwealth communities for being well ahead of the ban compared to his home state.

"Florida is going to do a five-year study on whether to ban plastic bags," he said, drawing some laughter from the crowd.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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