Public Comment: We Have Bylaws On The Books To Regulate Rogue Lawn Signs But Nothing For Industrial Solar Arrays

Photo: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

The following public comment was offered at the meeting of the Amherst Planning Board on December 15, 2021

I’m an abutter who has closely studied the initial incomplete AMP industrial solar proposal for 45 acres of land on Shutesbury Road in Amherst. This totally forested site is peppered with wetlands and is poorly suited for a solar installation. In addition, the adjacent Adams Brook would be threatened with uncontrolled runoff from the site, especially during the construction phase. It is also close enough to my backyard that I could wave to the bulldozer operators as they tore down the forest.

I am strongly opposed to this particular project and bought a sign to show my opposition. The lawn sign is from Smart Solar Western Mass, It basically says we support smart solar installations that do not involve clear cutting forests and destroying ecosystems.

I liked the sign, but as my opposition to the project increased, the sign seemed too small. I wanted to make a bigger sign, one that would better show just how opposed I was to this poorly conceived project. As I thought about this more, I realized that I had not seen any large signs in yards around town. I thought that perhaps there might be a law against them.

So I jumped on the Amherst town website and pored through the bylaws. Sure enough, I found five pages of sign regulations covering a multitude of commercial and political signs. I discovered that “message signs” were limited to six square feet with a maximum of two signs per lawn.

Not wanting to break the law, I gave up on the idea of a bigger sign, but curiosity led me to look up what the zoning regulations might say about solar installations in the Town of Amherst.

I wanted to find out some basic information like….

How large can a industrial solar project be?

10 acres? 50 acres? 400 acres?

(No information.)

How many solar cell modules can a solar project have?

10,000?  25,000? 75,000?

(Nothing mentioned.)

What is the maximum height of a solar array?

12 feet?  16 feet?  20 feet?

(Nada.)

How close to abutters?  Setback?

50 feet?  150 feet?  500 feet? 

(Diddly.)

Access road: How close to abutters?

100 feet?  50 feet?  5 feet?  5 inches?

(No information.)

Large scale lithium ion battery storage systems:

Example:  A 3 MW Tesla Megapack is similar in size and look to a cargo container.  When Megapacks are grouped together, they look like a personal self storage facility.

How many on lithium ion solar batteries on a site?

1? 10? 100?

(Not a word.)

How about a site that is just batteries? 

Or, how are firefighters and the public protected from potential fires caused by lithium ion battery malfunction?

(Say what?)

I finally gave up looking for answers. My research concluded that the Town of Amherst is safe from rogue signs, but we have zero bylaws to protect us from huge industrial solar projects that can pop up in any neighborhood. This needs to change. We need a comprehensive solar bylaw in this town, and we need a moratorium to give us the time to create one that is both fair and strong.

It is not reasonable to expect a handful of people on the ZBA to be fully versed in all the issues involved with industrial solar. Individuals involved in these important decisions need guidelines, standards and rules.

They need a solar bylaw. Indeed, the chairman of the ZBA wrote to the Planning Board in support of a moratorium while a bylaw is being created.

But the story does have a happy ending. Hundreds of homes around the local area now display that same small sign on their lawns making it clear they do not support clear cutting forests for industrial solar development. If you were to take all those signs and mount them together it would create a huge billboard, exactly the kind of large sign I was looking for.

Michael Lipinski 

Michael Lipinski is a resident of Amherst

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