Pelham, Shutesbury join case over local control of solar development

  • A large-scale solar array in the middle of forested land. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/28/2022 5:46:21 PM

Officials in Shutesbury and Pelham are supporting another Massachusetts community in a Supreme Judicial Court case that, depending on its outcome, could limit how cities and towns control development of large-scale solar projects.

With several area towns being presented plans for use of wooded land for solar farms — such as the 190 acres that Amp Energy of Ontario, Canada, is considering using for photovoltaics in Shutesbury, and an 11-megawatt solar field pitched for about 100 acres in Amherst — the amicus legal brief was recently filed by Save the Pine Barrens of Plymouth in the case of Tracer Lane II Realty LLC v. City of Waltham.

At the heart of the case, with the hearing to begin March 7, is a 35-year-old zoning law that says municipalities can’t “unreasonably regulate” solar energy systems. In Waltham, the building inspector denied the solar developer a permit for a large industrial solar project that is being subsidized through the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target, or SMART, program.

“The ramifications of the case are huge,” says Sharon Weizenbaum of Amherst, a member of Smart Solar Shutesbury, which is supporting the legal brief with other conservation groups, as well as officials in Wendell and Buckland, as a way of promoting public health and safety.

“It means a landowner can’t use Land Court to sue us if we reject a proposal based on our bylaws,” Weizenbaum said, adding that developers are already using loopholes to disempower towns. “We are hoping the Supreme Court will see how important it is for local communities to be able to regulate ourselves.”

The Pelham Select Board and Planning Board, and Shutesbury Planning Board, have signed on to the “friend of the court” brief.

Pelham Planning Board Chairwoman Judith Eiseman said in a statement that state protections through the SMART program haven’t gone far enough, observing that forest fragmentation could harm ecology.

“Industrial solar must be incentivized so it is placed where it does the least damage: on rooftops, brownfields and parking lots,” Eiseman said. “It may be cheaper right now to cut down the forest for solar, but doing so will result in even higher monetary and environmental costs later.”

Similarly, Michael DeChiara, a member of the Shutesbury Planning Board, said the state law prohibiting cities and towns from regulating industrial solar must be updated so that energy can come from non-fossil fuel sources, and keep vibrant ecosystems protected.

“Towns need the ability to address the climate crisis while also ensuring that industrial solar siting is thoughtfully applied, to ensure carbon sequestration and storage via forests, and to protect the vital water and agricultural resources that our communities rely upon,” DeChiara said in a statement.

Statistics provided by Mass Audubon show that 4,000 acres of forested land in the state has so far been replaced with solar arrays.

The state Legislature also is involved in giving communities more power to regulate solar siting, with Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and Rep. Jacob Oliveira, D-Ludlow, filing bills that are currently before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
Sign up for our free email updates
Daily Hampshire Gazette Headlines
Daily Hampshire Gazette Contests & Promotions
Daily Hampshire Gazette Evening Top Reads
Daily Hampshire Gazette Breaking News
Daily Hampshire Gazette Obits
Daily Hampshire Gazette Sports
Daily Hampshire Gazette PM Updates
Daily Hampshire Gazette Weekly Top Stories
Valley Advocate Newsletter
Daily Hampshire Gazette Dining & Entertainment


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

23 Service Center Road
Northampton, MA 01060


Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy