Solar Siting Dilemmas

Action to take on energy siting bills

Take action on the bills coming out of the legislature right now – June 2024. Details at Responsible Solar Massachusetts, the statewide website which knits together the many groups working on solar issues around the commonwealth.

Throughout Massachusetts, critical natural ecosystems are suffering damage and the threat of unintended consequences from large solar developers, incentivized by SMART subsidies, lacking oversight and updated regulation by the state, and ill equipped to anticipate the impact of ground mounted solar installations on valuable green lands.
How ludicrous to destroy actual perpetual green energy, nature’s ancient technology, to be substituted by our limited idea of man-made green energy; to sacrifice forests; our climate superheroes and biodiversity champions in the name of climate healing; to think our newer man-made technologies alone can get us out of the mess we created with our man-made technologies.

Who is working on this issue?

Our RF3 group is part of a grassroots coalition to protect vital ecosystems across the state from misguided industrial development. To challenge the narrative that unnecessarily pits solar initiatives against natural climate solutions and town boards against large even multinational players.

Our partners include:

Read about how a large landowner and multinational corporation is suing the small town of Shutesbury, as their town’s zoning bylaws aim to protect local forests and water supplies. Note that these areas are adjacent to the Quabbin reservoir.

See  presentations  on solar gone wrong, the value of forests and wetlands, the lawsuit and more.

Their updated website offers background information on the issues and reports on campaigns to stop the damage to fragile lands in southeastern MA

In addition to the threat from solar development, they have released a new study, Sand Wars in Cranberry Country: An investigation into the Money, Politics and Corruption Behind Sand Mining and its Silent Environmental Crisis in Southeastern Massachusetts. It is based on a decade of research, hundreds of eyewitness reports, years of drone surveillance and review of thousands of public records. The expose pulls back the curtain on an industry operating in plain sight while polluting the air, water, wetlands, desecrating archeological sites, and exposing the underground drinking water for over 200,000 people to contamination.
The report documents that over 2,500 acres have been strip mined, hills leveled, and holes dug into the aquifer to dredge for sand and gravel.
The report can be downloaded and viewed on the interactive website,
https://www.sandwarssoutheasternma.org/.
The ten minute film and four minute short accompany the report and are on You Tube.

The latest studies and initiatives from the state

  • Mass. DOER (Dept. of Energy Resources) has opened a public comment period regarding the solar subsidy program, SMART and is requesting responses to questions on this document. Because we know that most large-scale solar developments in forests, on agricultural land, or threatening the environment receive a SMART subsidy, our voices need to be heard if we hope to change the SMART regs . A large response rate might make them pay attention. If nothing else, our recommendations will be documented. 
  • The deadline for submitting written comments on the questions for the SMART review is Friday, February 2, 2024 by 5pm.
  • The Department of Energy Resources July 2023 report: Massachusetts Technical Potential for Solar storymap, study website, and downloadable pdf. Summarized in this Boston Globe report.
    • This study shows that … “We can both generate and transmit clean energy and meet our net zero goals while protecting sensitive natural and working lands and waters and the valuable benefits they provide including protecting biodiversity, enhancing climate resilience, and fostering natural systems to store and draw pollution from the air.” Steve Long, director of policy and partnerships at The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts. Mass has ample solar power potential (Daily Hampshire Gazette 7/7/2023).

Organizations that provide research and testimony

In a May 2021 report PFPI said

It is shocking to see that the state’s renewable energy policy is actually incentivizing forest clearing for solar. Climate change mitigation is not just about reducing fossil fuel emissions. Climate modeling is crystal-clear that we need to not only reduce emissions, but actually sequester CO2 that has already been emitted. Restoring and expanding forests is the only means under our control to achieve this at scale…. The state should not have a policy that pits solar against forests. Policies should offer incentives for preserving and expanding forests, not destroying them.

  • Massachusetts Sierra Club Forest Protection team
  • Mass Audubon’s new report highlights building solar on roofs and over parking lots to diminish the impact on nature:
    • Every acre of forest destroyed is a huge loss for birds and other wildlife, clean air and water, natural beauty, and recreation. But most importantly, cutting forests and developing farmlands to build solar energy doesn’t make sense for the climate: natural ecosystems and farm soils absorb 10% of Massachusetts’ greenhouse gas emissions every year. Both nature conservation and solar energy must be treated as essential strategies in our response to the climate crisis.
  • Solar Siting Joint Statement from statewide environmental organizations 

RF3 Legislative priorities

Click here to see details about bills we support and how to TAKE ACTION.

Read testimonies here and listen to hearing recordings.

  • H.3230 S.2164  which would establish a municipality’s right to reasonably regulate solar power locations and prevent the current unfortunate exploitative and massively destructive solar development practices.
  • H.3225 / S.2150 An Act to Encourage Solar Development on Buildings and Disturbed Land. Fact sheet.
  • H.3144 / S.2089  An Act promoting solar energy canopies on large parking lots
  • H3229S.2163 An Act prohibiting public and ratepayer funding of clearcutting forests and woodlands.

Climate scientists speak out:

Professor Bill Moomaw 2021 interview:

“A Clark University study pointed out that half of land conversions in Massachusetts have been for solar panels–not for urban development, not for agriculture, not for highways. An informal study was done in Berkshire County where 37 solar arrays were put in place and just over half of those involved cutting forests. No one seems to have looked at wha this means for biodiversity. No one’s looked at connectivity for wildlife and plant migration as the climate warms. We have fabulous connectivity in corridors going from Western Massachusetts and Western Connecticut going all the way down into NY state and all the way up to Canada. These need to be maintained for adaptation to climate change.” Massachusetts Sierran, 2021 (v.26 n.1)

Farmers Speak out:

CISA 2021 comment letter regarding siting

“Our primary concern with the current draft guidelines is that they encourage siting of dual use solar on the Commonwealth’s best farmland. Specifically, the requirement that eligible farmland must be in Chapter 61 or be designated as Important Agricultural Farmland (prime, of statewide importance, or unique) makes it more likely that dual use installations will be sited on high quality rather than marginal farmland. Instead, the regulations should prioritize marginal land. This shift would allow farmers to generate electricity and additional income on land that is less suited for crop production, retaining our best agricultural land base for food production now and in the future.”

PureSky Energy (formerly AMP Energy) projects in Shutesbury Background

Lawmakers weigh wood-burning for energy, heat. Sam Drysdale, State House News Service in Greenfield Recorder (7/4/2023)

Resident activists speak out:

Lenore Bryck editorial:

“The notion that the emissions reduction from cutting forests to install solar offsets the carbon value of trees is a false choice, short-sighted and can’t be accurately measured yet. Solar installations have a 25-year lifespan, while mature forests are irreplaceable and essential for climate healing, regulating the water cycles, nutrient cycling and preventing biodiversity collapse (arguably a greater threat to survival)….

The state should establish subsidies that support landowners to steward the land for optimal health rather than subsidizing large solar corporations to clear-cut forests and incentivize solar on all appropriate available space before destroying natural landscapes or habitats.”