Forty-One Acre Solar Installation Proposed For Forested Land On Shutesbury Road


Solar farm at Brookhave National Lab on Long Island. Photo: (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

by Robert Bezucha and Jenny Kallick

Amherst’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) has set August 24 as the public hearing date for a resubmitted application from PureSky, formerly known as AMP. PureSky is seeking a Special Permit to develop and install a photovoltaic ground mounted solar array and lithium battery storage system on Shutesbury Road. This is the largest project of this kind ever proposed in Amherst. It will occupy 41.4 acres of forested land, which will be clear cut and accessed from the frontage between the residences at 186 and 201 Shutesbury Rd. The land is the property of W.D. Cowls, Inc.

In its first reiteration dating back to 2019, the application for this project from AMP was heard by the town’s Conservation Commission on October 24, 2021. At the November 18, 2021 meeting, the Commission determined that the application was incomplete and provided AMP with 30 days to submit the outstanding items needed before an evaluation of the project could begin. AMP and its engineering firm, TRC, withdrew the application on November 24.

There have been significant policy developments in both town and state government during the eighteen months since the withdrawal of the initial application:

  • On July 6, 2023, the Commonwealth released a comprehensive solar siting study that makes clear there is ample possibility to fulfill the state’s goals for solar energy without the need to employ natural and working lands, including farms and forests
  • The Town has also commissioned a solar siting map meant to rank potential solar development locations based on current land use and environmental characteristics. Overall, this town mapping corresponds to the state’s solar siting mapping.
  • Meanwhile, a Solar Bylaw Working Group, appointed by the Town Manager and convened in March 2022, continues its work on a draft of Amherst’s first bylaw regulating solar development. The public may attend meetings on alternate Fridays, usually at 11:30 am.

The ZBA’s Public Hearing on August 24 will be the first opportunity for the public to engage with the Board as it deliberates on the request for a special permit to clear cut 41 acres of forest.

Further information is available on the website of

Robert Bezucha & Jenny Kallick
on behalf of Smart Solar Amherst

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4 thoughts on “Forty-One Acre Solar Installation Proposed For Forested Land On Shutesbury Road

  1. Presumably, the wood cut from this area would be mostly cord wood, to be sold and burnt into CO2, while the solar farm would take the area out of the carbon sequestration potential afforded by woodlands. With acres of local parking lots and big box store roofs on which solar panels could be mounted, why promote the clear cutting of 40+ acres of forest for a solar farm?
    Myopic fixation on money.

  2. In my professional capacity* as a mathematician/physicist/engineer, I spent a couple hours (on Zoom and the phone) patiently explaining to NPR reporter Julia Simon why, on balance, locating solar projects on already-built land (parking lots, rooftops, … ) would be a better societal investment than locating these projects on farm or forest lands.

    I even cited a Yale University review

    which concludes the same thing.

    But in the end – as typical of many reporters – what Simon mainly focused on was the “controversy”

    between what she consider “feuding environmentalist factions” (I paraphrase), using only a few comments I made en passant about the “integrity of the forest” in response to a vapid follow-up question she asked when it became clear that she had not understood most of what I’d said, setting me up as an easily dismissed “straw man” to be “knocked over” by the other “experts” she interviewed.

    Unfortunately, the tax incentives for building solar projects “almost anywhere” disturbs that environmental balance, pushing our society yet again into “stupid” territory – yet another example of privatizing profits and socializing costs.

    – Rob

    [*with additional experience in local, Massachusetts and federal environmental law from my years as a Conservation Commissioner in Amherst and a decade chairing the commonwealth’s Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Norwottuck Railtrail Advisory Committee]

  3. AMP/ PureSky and Cowls Land Company have no intention of holding a public information meeting for town of Amherst residents in advance of the ZBA meeting. Here is some project information that residents might find useful.

    The proposed Shutesbury Road solar project will destroy 41 acres of forest (31 Football Fields) and replace it with the following components:

    9,313 linear feet of 7-ft perimeter chain link fence.

    3,976 square yards of 15-foot-wide gravel access drives and turn arounds.

    17,160 photovoltaic (PV) solar modules (i.e., “panels”).

    87 single-axis tracker racking frames.

    609 racking posts

    One (1) concrete equipment pad supporting the electrical equipment.

    447 Cubic Yards of Concrete

    Two (2) SMA SC2660-UP Inverters. 

    Three (3) Power Electronic transformers. 

    920-feet of underground, and 740-feet of overhead collector line; and 
underground conduit and conductors along the trenches.

    Nine Utility Poles and associated interconnection equipment.

    Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) Equipment: 

    Twenty-seven (27) Powin Stack 750E batteries (746 kWh each), each contained in their own module.

    Nine (9) Dynapower DPS 500 DC-DC converters.

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