Neighbors oppose solar plan at former landfill

By Sam Hayes


A town forum to discuss plans to turn a former landfill off Old Belchertown Road into a solar power producing center at Amherst’s Fort River School Wednesday night was marked by vocal opposition from residents of neighborhoods surrounding the tentative site.

Town manager John Musante began the meeting by speaking before more than 80 concerned citizens who filled the small chairs and lined the walls of the crowded Fort River cafeteria.

“Apathy is not a problem in Amherst,” joked Musante, and it certainly was not

Wednesday. Residents had concerns about potential noise issues from the station, and worried about the possibility of a collapse of the clay cap that covers the landfill. In addition, residents voiced their fears about the aesthetics of the station potentially marring their views of the woods, and expressed that they felt they were not sufficiently involved in the process.

BlueWave Capital, the Boston-based renewable energy development company hired to build and operate the proposed panels attempted to allay concerns with promises of tree planting and enclosures to cut down on sight and noise issues, and offered explanations of how many pounds-per-square-inch the cap could hold, but citizens appeared not to be especially receptive.

Superintendent of Public Works Guilford Mooring reprimanded the riled crowd three times before he passionately spoke out again and left the meeting.

“I tell people who come to these meetings to expect educated people and conversation … I have been made a liar here today,” said Mooring before his exit. The crowd retorted with jeers and yells of “bulls**t.”

Musante was also heckled by the crowd, but did not leave.

“We’re all worked up,” he said. “I’m worked up, Guilford’s worked up … we are just as passionate about the neighborhood as you are,” said Musante.

Residents blatantly disagreed, but he continued.

“We care passionately about the town…We have to decide as a community on how to approach this project…We can’t just put it [out of sight].”

Dave Keenan, an owner of 10 properties in the neighborhood abutting the landfill said he agreed with Musante, to a point.

“We have an opportunity here, maybe not on this site … I think we have potential,” he said.

Like Keenan, many residents brought up alternative proposals, including placing the panels on the non-residential end of the landfill, atop school buildings, on residential houses or in other undetermined locations.

Putting panels on the schools’ roofs is part of the long-term plan that John DeVillars, managing partner of BlueWave Capital, presented at the beginning of the meaning.

The current proposal is to cover the clay-capped landfill with 4.75 megawatts of solar panels, which would generate more than six million kilowatt hours per year, DeVillars explained.

“We want to make Amherst emerge as the leader [in renewable energy] in the Commonwealth… to be the first carbon-neutral town in the Massachusetts,” said DeVillars.

The current plan would seek to replace the town’s present dependence on coal and nuclear power, reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Amherst by over 100,000 tons and save the town $30 million over the life of the 20-year contract, according to DeVillars.

BlueWave is currently involved with contracts across the state, with a total of 30 megawatts in solar panels including stations in Athol, Greenfield, New Bedford and other municipalities. Amherst would need roughly nine megawatts to be fully powered.

The proposed plan would give BlueWave a contract to lease the landfill and then in return sell the power to Amherst with a net credit program that would drastically reduce the cost of electricity, DeVillars argued.

After the landfill project is completed, the proposal calls for three more energy steps.

First, municipal buildings and schools would be fitted with solar panels, then commercial properties would be similarly equipped, and finally residential buildings would have panels installed.

Both DeVillars and Musante repeatedly said how they appreciated the phone calls, emails, and peoples’ general concerns. Musante often said, “Thank you, seriously, thank you,” to people opposing the proposal after they expressed their views.

The town still must acquire permits and finalize contracts before any work is commenced.

“We are still at the very beginning of this process,” said Musante.

The solar panels could be up and producing if the project is approved by May of 2012.

Sam Hayes can be reached at [email protected]