Wareham: 0 Route 25 Proposed Solar Site Threatens Pine Barrens Forest, Drinking Water and Way of Life
Planning Board hearing continued to March 27, 2023 at 6 p.m.
- Project threatens 21 acres of rare Pine Barrens forests, and drinking water of downgradient residents
- Concerned residents’ information submitted to Planning Board asks the Board to deny the Site Plan Review and Special Permit Application – see the Wareham Planning Board file here
- Fletcher mining operation under the ruse of cranberry agriculture, now solar with Wareham PV LLC exposed
Above: Image courtesy of Google Earth, 2022 The proposed site includes the strip mined area along the cranberry bog on the west side. The trees along the mining site will be cleared.
An out of state limited liability company, Wareham PV I LLC is proposing to install a 3.5 megawatt solar array just north of Route 25, near Harlow Brook in central Wareham. The project will chop down about 21 acres of forest for the proposed large ground mounted project.
According to the consultant, the southern portion of the site consists of a pine canopy with a dense shrub understory, aka the rare Pine Barrens ecosystem of southeastern Massachusetts. The Pine Barrens are a unique ecoregion found only in Southeastern Massachusetts, Long Island, and New Jersey; the Massachusetts forests support over 200 state and federally listed species. Cutting down another 21 acres of this rare wilderness threatens the viability of the entire ecoregion.
Image of the site courtesy of VHB
According to the consultant, the site soils consist of glacial outwash deposits which consist of loamy sands, and fine sands, and the depth to groundwater 44 to 50 inches at the seasonal high water table in March – April. Site groundwater is recharged by precipitation – rainwater and snowmelt. Therefore, according to the consultant’s own report, this site sits atop the Plymouth-Carver Sole Source aquifer, the only source of drinking water for five towns in southeastern Massachusetts.
Image of the site courtesy of VHB
Wareham has lost over 300 acres of forest to solar development in the last five years. No comprehensive hydraulic study has been conducted for the Town of Wareham on how the removal of up to 300 acres of forest in the Town will affect the Town’s drinking water supply. We cannot have any more threats to the drinking water of Wareham residents and beyond. Residents, particularly downgradient residents who get their drinking water from private wells, are speaking out about how these proposed solar projects are threatening their water supply.
A citizens’ activist group submitted a Citizens’ Memorandum to the Wareham Planning Board, calling for the Board to oppose the site:
This solar site, in addition to three other proposed solar sites currently before the Wareham Planning Board (91 & 101 Fearing Hill Road, 27 Charge Pond Road and 150 Tihonet Road), together threaten 144 acres of rare Pine Barrens forest in Wareham. Forests are a critical part of of our climate solution, and the Pine Barrens give Wareham its unique character. Why should Wareham stand for this?
At the December 12, 2022 public hearing of the Planning Board, the solar developer was faced with questions from the Planning Board. The Board wants more information about the costs of decommissioning of the project, and the location of future disposal of the solar panels. They rejected the application and requested that the decommissioning plans be updated to reflect more realistic costs. During the hearing, expert hydrogeologist Scott Horsley presented the board with his findings of the site, which include the potential for a heat island effect from the solar panels and loss of forest cover, reduction in evapotranspiration, and potential for groundwater mounding. He called for an independent study of the hydrology of the site before the plans were voted on. His testimony was covered by the Wareham Week. The hearing was continued.
At the continued Planning Board public hearing January 9, 2023, the solar developer again faced questions. The Planning Board continued the hearing again deciding there were too many unanswered questions about the project. The Board was not satisfied with the decommissioning proposal – they wanted the applicant to up the bond from $800K to $2.2M. They also stated that construction cannot begin until after the applicant receives an interconnection agreement – which the applicant currently does not have. The Chair also expressed concerns with potential groundwater contamination – from both the panels themselves and the battery storage unit – and stated that monitoring wells would be a requirement for the project.
During the course of the public meeting, it was revealed that the BESS – battery energy storage system – would transfer energy two ways, both transmitting energy from the panels to the grid and receiving energy from the grid. This was a new development, which the Board was not yet aware of. One of the members stated that Wareham did not have the laws in place yet to regulate such a system. The Board also stated that the BESS would be held to the same safety requirements as the proposed BESS at Fearing Hill.
The public hearing was continued on February 13, 2023, at which time the applicant faced more questions from the Board. One of the Board’s primary concerns was the two-way energy transfer system of the BESS. The Board saw a great potential for the BESS to become a profitable energy storage system of its own. According to Mike King, Chair of the Wareham Planning Board, he saw no reason why the owner of the BESS would not “buy low, sell high,” as in, take energy off the grid when it was abundant, and place it back on the grid when it was needed. The applicant could not argue, because that is essentially the goal of grid stabilization. However, the Board was very wary about approving such a system, not knowing the true function and scope of the BESS in the future. BESS, along with solar arrays, are an ever-evolving technology.
The safety of BESS’s also came up during the meeting, at which time it was revealed that Wareham Fire Department’s standard response to a battery storage unit fire was to essentially let it burn. Pouring water on a chemical battery fire creates toxic gas, and therefore the safest thing to do was to let it burn out. However, the BESS will sit directly on top of our aquifer, and the site’s operation and maintenance plan does not have any requirements for thermal monitoring of the unit.
The Board was also very concerned about the applicant’s unwillingness to install monitoring wells around the property, saying that the residents and the Town’s water deserved to be protected. They cited Warren’s recently approved solar bylaw, which requires solar developers to conduct a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) and a Phase II ESA if necessary. A Phase II ESA would require pre-and post- solar development soil and groundwater sampling, to determine if the solar array had any negative impact on the soil or groundwater quality below it. The applicant’s lawyer pushed back against the suggestion, saying that the Massachusetts Attorney General had verbally admonished Warrens for such a strict bylaw, and that the applicant maintained there was no need for groundwater monitoring at the Wareham site. The overall attitude of the applicant’s lawyer seemed to suggest they were not willing to go above and beyond their proposal to add groundwater monitoring at the site, which did not sit well with the Board.
The hearing is continued until March 27, 2023. Please send in your comments to the Wareham Planning Board!