Guest columnist Leslie Cerier: It’s time for a moratorium on large-scale solar projects

Published: 8/24/2021 9:16:40 PM

Three years ago, 30 acres of forested land were clear cut to make way for an industrial scale solar project in Shutesbury. Since the panels went in, nearby homes have experienced water damage, and we just found out that required monitoring and paperwork from the developer related to environmental impacts and maintenance have been late and inconsistent.

Citizens and town officials learned from that experience and voted in bylaws in June 2020 that regulate the impact of solar development on the environment and Indigenous ceremonial sites. Moreover, our zoning laws limit the size of any solar development to 15 acres.

Currently there is a plan for five more of these industrial scale solar projects in our town. That means removing 190 acres of forest. Two of the solar projects are sited on land set aside for conservation by the landowner who was recently compensated by the state, private funds, and a land trust in the amount of $3.3 million.

The state itself considers this land environmentally sensitive due to its extensive forest cover and biological diversity. It should be especially protected by the town. The developer wants to get around the usual permitting process by pressuring the town to approve a “public-private partnership,” which would make them qualify for the highest tier of state subsidies through the Department of Energy Resources SMART funds program.

This is a gross misuse of state funding because by establishing a “public-private partnership” arrangement with the town, they would no longer be financially penalized under state environmental restrictions that discourage siting solar projects in forests or agricultural land. Their business model is an attempt at an end-run around state regulations, as well as our town’s voter approved zoning and solar bylaws.

If these new projects get installed, they will likely affect neighboring residents’ drinking water and stormwater management, not to mention their property values. Look at what happened in Williamsburg, a case documented by local news media. The developer clear-cut 19 acres for a solar project that resulted in major stormwater run-off damage, polluting several acres of wetlands and the river tributaries. The damage was so bad that the attorney general sued the developer for over $1 million.

What about the limit of 15 acres for development projects in my town? The landowner and developer will certainly enlist their network of political, economic and legal connections to pressure the town for a waiver. It doesn’t help that state laws regulating solar development are obsolete, specifically the vague clause that says that solar development should not be “unreasonably regulated.” This defining feature of the law written in the 1970s offers little guidance for dealing with the current statewide proliferation of industrial solar and its consequences.

We are all for appropriately sited solar to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but what we are witnessing here is the destruction of carbon sequestering forests that are part of the solution to the climate and biodiversity crisis. What is happening in Shutesbury, despite our bylaws, can happen in any town in Massachusetts. That means your town too.

Therefore, we are calling on Gov. Charlie Baker for a moratorium on solar projects over 5 acres. That’s enough electricity for about 150 or more homes. It would allow for 1) municipalities to consider bylaws to best address their residents’ concerns about solar, and 2) give the public and experts time to work with lawmakers and regulators to fix the problems with the state’s energy policy.

Please sign the moratorium petition at solar action page. For more information, please visit

Leslie Cerier lives in Shutesbury.
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