The town of Amherst recently conducted a month-long community solar development survey. The comprehensive survey was designed to help identify community values as they relate to potential large scale solar development in the town.
The survey was developed and administered by a consultant, GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc. Two town committees, the Energy and Climate Action Committee (ECAC) and the Solar Bylaw Working Group (SBWG), contributed to the development of the survey. Two in-person community workshops and input collected at an Engage Amherst webpage were also quantified in the results. Both groups had referred to the importance of gathering resident input to guide their committees’ mandates.
Last week, the consultant delivered the “Town of Amherst Solar Assessment Outreach Findings” at two online committee meetings. The first presentation was at the Energy And Climate Action Committee (ECAC) meeting held on Wednesday, April 26, and the second at the Solar Bylaw Working Group (SBWG) meeting on April 28.
The most notable results from the survey were:
• 90% of respondents want to see large scale solar installed on parking lot canopies and rooftops.
• Little support for large-scale industrial solar on forest land
• Little support for large-scale industrial solar on agricultural land or open space
• Some respondents showed interest in Dual-Use Agriculture/Solar.
• Most respondents support a strong solar bylaw that strictly regulates where solar can be constructed.
• Most respondents were aware of carbon emission targets and believe they are important.
After the presentation, the ECAC members did not have much to say about the long-awaited survey results, although some members expressed concerns about the survey demographics. They were concerned that survey respondents might not be representative of all Amherst residents. Two ECAC members, Steve Roof and Lori Golden, questioned the methodology of the survey. It is unclear how the data from the survey will be used by the ECAC in the future.
During the April 28 presentation to the SBWG questions from Jack Jemsek and Janet McGowan focused on interpreting the graphs because survey questions had different formats, and the meaning of percentages were not always clear. Jemsek was curious as to why there were various questions about water security and safety given that the Water Supply Protection Committee’s (WSPC) White Paper addressed this topic. Adrienne Dunk and others suggested that the White Paper from the WSPC might need to be more broadly distributed.
The survey’s evidence of broad support for canopies produced a robust discussion. Jemsek noted that the town does not have much asphalt where canopies might be constructed. He wondered if Amherst might lease parking lots from the college or university.
McGowan noted that the SBWG can make recommendations to the Town Council to encourage roof top solar as well as canopies through tax incentives to individuals and businesses.
Dunk and Town Sustainability Coordinator Stephanie Ciccarello emphasized there will be a report forthcoming with more detail and narrative.