Guest columnist Judith Mann: Not all solar growth is good

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Published: 4/7/2021 3:21:47 PM

Tell us more. Given the urgent need for clean renewable energy, it may be hard to see how any solar growth could be bad, which is why more nuanced and scientific discussion — and reporting — is crucial.

Solar growth does not depend on vast commercial arrays — only solar investment schemes do. Hefty incentives from the state have given landowners, investors and developers the green light to override small town boards, through misrepresentation, and/or threats of litigation, resulting in loss, and not gain, of resources.

The “catastrophic and irreparable harm” in Williamsburg is not an isolated incident (“Officials salute $1.1M fine on solar developer,” Feb. 5, Gazette) given the lack of oversight and unregulated industry standards. Shutesbury, once again the target of an enormous project, faces threats familiar to small towns. The developer intends to sue over its “restrictive” solar bylaws, and the landowner offers an incentive to override bylaws written to protect the environment.

One resident bemoaned having to sacrifice hunting and hiking in forests for the public good. What we didn’t read is that bylaws are approved by the attorney general before they are put to a vote, and that the landowner is alone in claiming that deforestation is for the good of the environment and general welfare.

The concern is that Massachusetts has already suffered the needless destruction of over 7,000 acres of forests, (one-third the size of the city of Worcester), and it is unknown how many other utility scale projects are currently under review by towns ill-equipped to assess such complex design. The harm of clear-cutting canopy and trunks pales beside the destruction of removal of root systems and ground cover.

The forest cannot restore, as claimed, when the panels are removed, and fenced acres of panels do not provide habitat, control temperature, erosion, and flooding, or produce oxygen while sequestering carbon for use in future forest growth. There will not be stacks of toxic trees in landfills 25 years from now.

One bright spot is the recent shift to high rise buildings made entirely of wood in Europe and North America. Solar development and forestry would be seen as equally profitable, necessary, and not in opposition. Those of us who want truly clean and renewable solar energy look forward to standards for design and siting, a ban on deforestation, and shifting incentives.

Those of us who read the local paper would really appreciate an editorial decision to assign in-depth study of the subject.

Judith Mann lives in Belchertown.


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