Lee board wants answers before voting on solar project proposal

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LEE — A West Coast alternative energy company seeking to install a 5-megawatt solar array on a scenic hillside has plenty of homework to do before town officials consider voting on the $10.5 million project.

The Lee Planning Board this week asked Cypress Creek Renewables to pay a local engineering firm to conduct an independent review of the project.

"We want our questions answered before the biggest solar project comes to Lee," Chairwoman Peg Biron said during Monday night's regular board meeting.

Cypress Creek Renewables, based in Santa Monica, Calif., is proposing to clear cut 42 acres at the end of Chanter Road between Route 20 and Goose Pond. It would lease the land from local businessman Thomas Touponce.

The ground-mounted facility is expected to produce enough electricity to power 1,440 single-family homes, according to Cypress. The company would sell the electricity to Eversource, which serves the Lee area. Cypress also wants on-site battery storage of up to 2.5 megawatts, which could be sold when it's most profitable.

The solar energy developer has more than 300 arrays across the country generating 3,200 megawatts of electricity.

Cypress plans to install four detention ponds to help slow the runoff from the site.

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The Planning Board also wants the Lee Conservation Commission to complete its wetlands review of the property, which could take a couple of months, as snow still covers the site.

"Obviously, there's a lot of water you need to manage up there," board member Thomas Wickham said.

Cypress officials agreed to the independent review and said they had begun an environmental review of the property. But Cypress spokeswoman Annie McQuillan said the company had expected the Planning Board to formally accept the plans Monday, starting the clock on a 30-day review before the board takes a vote.

Cypress is already under environmental scrutiny by the Great Barrington Conservation Commission. Last fall, the company submitted plans to install a 5-megawatt array on 32 acres belonging to the Egremont Country Club. Chairman Jeffrey Cohan says the commission is awaiting the wetlands review of that property.

The Lee project, which would be at an elevation of about 1,280 to 1,335 feet, could also trigger a review under the Berkshire Scenic Mountain Act. The state-backed regulation is designed to protect watershed resources and preserve the natural scenic qualities of the Berkshire environment.

McQuillan was unsure if the company has addressed the regulation, but she noted that the solar panels won't be seen because of the surrounding vegetation. She said a couple of nearby homeowners might have partial view of the solar panels.

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


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