Solar farms are popping up all over the region, but not everyone is walking on sunshine over solar panels stretching over several acres to collect the sun’s rays.
When the Patrick-Murray administration came into office, it set a goal to have 250 megawatts of solar photovoltaic arrays installed in the state by 2017. To date, the Commonwealth is at 243 megawatts.
Meg Lusardi, director of the State Department of Energy Resources’ Green Communities Division, said the state has incentives promoting renewable energy development. Standards require a certain amount of the state’s electricity coming from renewable energy, with that amount increasing every year.
“At the local level, there is a real interest in clean energy development and for communities to reduce their carbon footprint, to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions,” Ms. Lusardi said. “There is such a real commitment at the local level to these issues.”
Ms. Lusardi said all site plan approval and zoning decisions for solar projects are done at the local level.
But in Athol, resident Kelly Chase is alleging that small, rural, residential communities are being turned into commercial and industrial solar farms through the “inappropriate solar bylaw zoning movement.”
Last month, the Athol Zoning Board of Appeals denied an appeal from Ms. Chase, John and Linda Jackson and Donna Rousselle, all of Bearsden Road, to revoke the building permit issued for Soltas Energy LLC of New York City to construct a 3.5 megawatt, 15-acre solar farm at Adams Farm on Bearsden Road.
“Residents and abutters have little to no opportunity to have their voices heard in objections or their questions answered,” Ms. Chase said. “Despite the numerous procedural errors that have occurred, the town continues to blindly allow this ill-sited project to deleteriously impact the public health, safety and welfare of the people who have made their home on Bearsden Road for years.”
Speaking on behalf of the abutters, Attorney Adam Costa said the ZBA should revoke the building permit, based on a claim that the Planning Board approved an incomplete site plan, as well as the farm’s land being under a Chapter 61A agricultural restriction, which would make a solar farm a prohibited use.
“The issue is they are installing a large-scale solar array in a rural, residential area,” Mr. Jackson said. “People have been there for years. They built their houses. They bought their houses with the understanding that this is a rural area where we will live and see cows and such, without any thoughts of having an industrial power plant built across the street, which this basically is, although they will not like to call it that.”
Athol Selectman Anthony A. Brighenti said every town board gave the green energy project the green light.
“I believe those people have every right to complain as far as where they were coming from. They are abutters. The process, it went through every board and every board has sided with Soltas,” Mr. Brighenti said. “I feel that it’s a project that the town of Athol is very proud of.”
When it comes to residents in area towns showing their disdain for a solar power farm, Athol abutters are not alone, even though, oftentimes, their respective municipal government representatives and/or non-abutting neighbors usually don’t side with them in the end.
But that isn’t the case in Sturbridge.
At the Sturbridge special town meeting held Jan. 7, town voters backed a moratorium on large-scale solar photovoltaic facilities and wind energy systems through Jan. 31, 2014.
Carisbrooke Holdings and Spencer Solar, both of Acton, are appealing in Boston Land Court the Sturbridge Planning Board’s Jan. 22 decision to refuse to hold a public hearing and to deny their application for a site plan review for a proposed 18.9-acre solar farm at 48 Old Farm Road and on Fiske Hill Road.
Sturbridge is working in partnership with state Department of Transportation and Bluewave Capital LLC to develop a 1.5 megawatt solar farm on state-owned, industrially zoned property located near the Mass Pike interchange at I-84 and I-90.
In West Brookfield, CleanGen Partners LLC of Hollis, N.H., is constructing a 2.2 megawatt solar farm off Route 9 across from Ridge Road for West Brookfield Solar LLC.
The West Brookfield site was approved by the zoning board of appeals, but the ZBA decision has been appealed to Worcester Superior Court by abutters who believe the 9-foot-high panels will ruin their scenic view of the Quaboag River, seriously reduce property values, pose a potential hazard and possibly disturb Native American artifacts buried on the site.
Unlike Athol, Sturbridge and West Brookfield, in most Central Massachusetts communities solar farms go up with little controversy or conflict.
In East Brookfield, CleanGen Partners is proposing a 2-megawatt, 40-acre solar farm on Harrington Street, near the Spencer line.
In North Brookfield, Solventerra LLC is installing a 2-megawatt solar farm at 12 Lincoln Road, while Spencer Renewable Energy LLC of Providence is working on a 3-megawatt solar installation at 28 Mad Brook Road.
Still, North Brookfield Selectmen Chairman Jason M. Petraitis said he is still skeptical about solar power.
“You’ll probably see a good return in the beginning, but in 20 years, I’m not sure you will,” Mr. Petraitis said. “It’s still too new of a science.”
In Westboro, Harvey’s Farm LLC Photovoltaic Generation has town approval to install a 2.24-megawatt solar farm on eight acres at Harvey Farm, 120 South St. This will mark the fifth solar farm in town.
“We get paid property taxes. We are part of a power purchasing program with Harvey’s and it’s good for the environment,” Town Manager James J. Malloy said. “People need to realize that if we want renewable energy, that it has to be in somebody’s backyard.”
Millbury has a solar utility credit purchase agreement with a 3.9-megawatt solar farm being developed at 29 McGrath Road. Millbury Town Planner Laurie A. Connors said there didn’t appear to be strong opposition to the solar farm.
On Aug. 28, Millbury selectmen approved an agreement with Hanover Off Site Power LLC operating a 1-megawatt, 5-acre solar farm, off Stafford Street in Leicester. Sixty percent of the net metering credits generated by the Leicester solar farm are assigned to the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts in Worcester, while the remaining 40 percent goes to Millbury.
In addition, a 6 megawatt, 34-acre solar farm has been approved for 390 Auburn St., Leicester.
“I don’t want to say that Leicester is green on solar but we are very positive on solar,” Leicester Selectman Douglas A. Belanger said. “It has been, so far, such a good experience.”
In Charlton, OMA Group LLC of Southbridge has an operational 1-megawatt, 5-acre solar farm at 157 Worcester Road, Route 20. In addition, SolarFlair Energy is developing a 2-megawatt, 9-acre solar farm at Route 20 and Richardson Corner Road.
Charlton Town Planner Alan I. Gordon said solar is more acceptable to the public than wind.
“Because with wind, people get worried about shadow flickering,” Mr. Gordon said. “They don’t like that. They don’t like the whishing sound and they worry about electromagnetism from the turbines. That doesn’t exist and those types of impacts don’t happen from solar. It’s less noticeable. It’s low to the ground. It seems to work pretty well.”
In Lancaster, a 4-megawatt, 20-acre solar project at Manny’s Dairy Farm on Brockelman Road is scheduled for construction later in the spring and a 5.15 megawatt project at the Shirley Airport (on the Lancaster side) is proposed. Already, Lancaster municipally owns and operates a 550-kilowatt, 2.77-acre solar farm on the site of the town’s old landfill off Route 70.
“I think the town is overall supportive of it because it does provide jobs. It provides growth. It provides renewable energy,” Lancaster Town Administrator Orlando Pacheco said.
“But, we have also benefited from the fact that they have been sited far away from people.”
In Barre, Quabbin Solar has a 2-megawatt, 9-acre solar farm at 295 Vernon Ave. and a 1.8-megawatt solar farm at 800 South Barre Road. Both solar farms are between eight and 12 acres and are operating.
“There were no controversies with these projects,” Barre Town Administrator Heather R. Lemieux said. “We’re a green community. It’s promoting renewable energy … Those two projects have brought in funds that the town would not have seen otherwise.”
But Ms. Lusardi, the state’s director of the Energy Resources’ Green Communities Division, cautions: “Communities should make choices based on what works best for their communities.
“We don’t encourage cutting down a forest of trees for the installation of solar because trees have greenhouse gas benefits as well.”
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