Information on land based solar in Massachusetts

In 2017, Environment Watch of Southeastern Massachusetts issued a report, “Loss of Open Space, Cultural Resources & Community Character Caused by Industrial Ground-Mounted Solar Energy Systems in Massachusetts: Case Studies and a Call for Changing Solar Industry Subsidies.”

The report helped generate momentum for ending taxpayer subsidies for the destruction of our forests but change has not happened. The multinational corporations dominating the solar industry, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs are working hand in glove to destroy forests, biodiversity, cultural sites and our future. All while claiming this is green energy and climate solution.

The chance to have a livable planet is disappearing. Massachusetts officials and the solar industry must turn this around by ending solar subsidies.

Mass Audubon has developed a webinar on solar siting reform for Massachusetts and Rhode Island. https://masscptc.org/training/webinar-2021/e-workshop-21.html#solarsite

It includes a presentation by John Rogan of Clark University on the statewide map his students developed. It shows 7,700 acres of land converted to solar in Massachusetts through 2019 — and nearly half was former forest. Under the Massachusetts Decarbonization Roadmap” forests are targeted for land based solar. According to MassAudubon,

“In recent years, more than 25% of all new solar arrays were large-scale ground mounted arrays located on former forests or farmlands. If this trend continues, more than 100,000 acres of land will be converted. The pace of solar development needs to be rapidly increased, while shifting more toward already-developed lands close to energy demand loads.”

The DOER SMART siting regulations are totally inadequate for protecting biodiversity, waterways, cultural sites and communities. The regulations are based on outdated state Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) maps that ignore cultural resources and areas that the state has not gotten around to “mapping.” While the “Biomap2” state mapping system used by the SMART regulations is somewhat helpful as a guide, it has no regulatory teeth and is grossly incomplete. The BE RE LLC land based solar project on the Wewantic River, an Outstanding Resource Water under the state Clean Waters Act is one example of how the SMART siting regulations don’t work to protect our environment. Here, venture capitals are exploiting our lands and waters and out-gunning local boards and committees being forced to deal with solar siting without adequate resources. The state MEPA office has granted solar a free pass from environmental impact reports.

Community Land & Water Coalition March 2021 comments to the Planning Boards of Wareham and Carver state,

We support properly sited and permitted solar energy. There should be no land-based solar on undisturbed forested or agricultural lands until all disturbed areas (not including productive agricultural lands such as the Maple Springs bogs) rooftops, canopy areas and paved areas are used for solar. 

Unfortunately, Massachusetts’s poorly designed solar subsidy programs are destroying land, water, wetlands, biodiversity, wildlife habitat and the globally rare Pine Barrens ecosystems where we live.    The lucrative state subsidies driving the rush to build land-based solar are poorly designed and important decisions about solar siting are left to local boards and committees. We support your efforts to implement local bylaws and acknowledge the challenge these large industrial scale projects being promoted by a range of joint venture financiers present to our local communities. 

We urge you to exercise the full extent of your regulatory authority to ensure complete and thorough disclosure by BE RE LLC and its consultant Beals+Thomas and to require a thorough analysis of all aspects of this project in order to protect our land, water and community character. We urge you to consider carefully crafted permit conditions tailored to this ecologically significant site that is located on the banks of the Wewantic River, designated by Massachusetts as an Outstanding Water Resource.”

Massachusetts’ “dual use” solar policy benefits solar companies and big land owners while hurting farmers. There is no science to support the claims of crop success under heavy shade. Solar arrays may negatively impact hydrology and soil health as well.