BLANDFORD – A one-year moratorium on ground-mounted solar arrays passed with some discussion at a sparsely attended Special Town Meeting on Monday, Aug. 5.
The moratorium, which is intended to give the Planning Board time to update the bylaws, will expire on June 30, 2020. Current applications in progress will not be impacted.
Currently, Blandford has four commercial solar arrays, ranging from five to 30 acres, and another two have started the process.
The town will undertake a planning process to study and address what revisions are needed in the by-laws to regulate the industry, protect the town’s environmental resources, and to further its planning goals. Prior to the vote, Planning Board chair Richard Barnard said they would seek the assistance of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and VHB Engineering out of Springfield to assist them with the review.
At the meeting on Monday, Barnard explained that they need to get the bylaws in order, which currently treat all ground-mounted solar installations the same, both large commercial arrays and small private ones.
Resident Gordon Avery, who said he has a small-mounted system, questioned why the moratorium should include private installations, which aren’t permitted to produce more than a household can use in a year.
Moderator David Hopson said the potential change to the bylaws would affect both commercial and residential applications.
A representative of the Zoning Board also said one of the purposes was to separate out private systems from commercial, and allow them to go through the Zoning Board rather than the special permit process in the Planning Board.
Avery made a motion to amend and refer back to the committee, which was defeated. A second motion to amend the moratorium to Jan. 1 was made, and the Planning Board asked if that would give them enough time. They said it would not. The amendment was defeated and the one-year moratorium passed by a two-thirds majority.
Residents also approved a $100,000 transfer from the town’s stabilization account to purchase a John Deer 5441 Loader Vehicle for the Highway Department. The warrant originally asked for $160,000, but was amended in order to utilize $50,000 from Chapter 90 funds for the purchase.
Highway supervisor Rene Senecal said under Mass. Guidelines, Ch. 90 funds may be used to buy equipment or even build buildings, as long as it’s pre-approved by the MassDOT.
Senecal said the town’s current John Deere Loader is 23 years old, and would have cost twice the amount it’s worth to repair.
All other warrant items, most of which involved paying past year’s bills and bylaw revisions passed, with the exception of two bylaws regarding the size of signs in town, which were referred back to the Planning Board.