Inside/Outside: Solar array placement grows as a current issue

  • The white house at the top of the photo, taken from the Tully Dam in Royalston, as well as the hillside going down to Tully Lake (but with no lakeshore frontage), was sold at auction in 2015 to Edward Jardus. A large portion of the land, rejected years earlier for housing, is being considered for a solar array, but the plan has become controversial. COURTESY SCOTT PRALINSKY

  • A portion of the 60-acre clear-cut in West Orange that has caused flooding in lower elevations nearby, including the West Orange Cemetery and properties near the intersection of Haskins Road and West Orange Road (Route 2A). The border collie in the photo accompanies West Orange Road resident Rice Flanders on her woodland walks. COURTESY RICE FLANDERS

Published: 9/5/2018 9:54:45 AM
Modified: 9/5/2018 10:18:14 AM

The placement of solar arrays in area towns has increasingly become an issue, just as this vital form of alternative energy becomes more necessary and common. There are many questions, especially where such arrays are located, their overall environmental impact and how many of them should be built in a given area.

In late spring, I wrote my Inside/Outside column on this topic, where I concluded, “Let’s find a way to develop alternative energy, not in a haphazard way, as is being done, but while caring, respecting and conserving the land.”

When torrential rain caused damage to the West Orange Cemetery and flooded West Orange Road (Route 2A), the actual cause for the damage was obvious to area residents. The culprit was a recently cleared tract of dozens of  acres of pristine forest being developed by logger Fred Heyes, with town boards having ignored the pleas of residents to take steps to deal with potential water runoff, wildlife devastation and other issues.

Looking back on the situation, Selectboard member Jane Peirce pledged to agitated and angry residents that she would be more vigilant in the future.  Local resident and my personal friend Rice Flanders had guided me uphill behind her house to view the deforestation shortly before the flooding.

 In an email to her longtime friend Jane, Rice wrote this: “A few days before these rains, I walked up back with Allen Young and saw the dinky hole in the ground that I now know is the so-called ‘retention pond.’ Little did I know then, as I laughingly pointed it out to Allen, that it would so soon create such a neighborhood catastrophe. 

“Never in my 46 years here have I seen such a sight, the river coursing down the gully on my land, and then rushing across the cemetery, delivering huge amounts of debris and knocking down a few stones, the entire road flooded. It was a shocking sight, and pitiful in the aftermath.”

Other area residents have become both angry and engaged. Residents Wendy and Timothy Cornwell wrote a detailed letter to the Orange Selectboard and Planning Board members, urging that “the project should be suspended until it can go forward in an environmentally responsible fashion, which may be a consideration of revised zoning laws.”

Indeed, a committee has been formed to look into special zoning for solar arrays in Orange.

The ​​​​Cornwells’ letter pointed to “the complete failure of the plan approved by the town of this solar project. Looking to the future, it is clear that it may be too late for West Orange, but it now behooves the Town of Orange to learn from this manmade environmental carnage.”

Neighbors have been informed and further upset by a plan for a solar array on a nearby attractive meadow, usually mowed for hay. This site is located at the intersection of Routes 2A and 78, and it certainly will have a negative impact on local scenery viewed daily by many people.

Meanwhile, in Athol, a proposed solar array on the eastern slope above Tully Lake continues to be the subject of Planning Board review. This is the same property where a housing development was shot down a few years ago. In the current case, concerned residents hired environmental attorney Michael Pill of Shutesbury to help them slow down approval and possibly defeat the plan.

According to Darlene Lawlor-Moore, one of the residents, the lawyer wrote to the planning and zoning boards stating, “As a matter of law, neither a flag lot special permit for the existing house on the Jardus property, nor site plan approval for the proposed solar project, can be granted.”

She explained, “One of the main points that the nine-page letter brings up is that the right of way designated for the special lot is an easement owned by two other abutters. The criteria in the Athol bylaws for having a special flag law state that the owner of the flag lot needs to own the road/right of way.”

In Royalston, no opposition has emerged to a proposed solar array off Winchendon Road, near state-owned wildlife management land. The Planning Board has continued its hearing on this topic as the developer needs to complete its agreement with National Grid.

The Royalston array, first of its kind in that town and on a 20-acre lot, will be accessed via a long driveway, and with the solar panels not readily visible from the roadway, according to Planning Board member Tom Musco.

While I did not attend the hearing in Royalston, and am not aware of the details, both the Planning Board and Conservation Commission have a keen sense of the need for full review and regulation under existing regulations. It seems to be a project without obvious negative impact.

Solar panels on roofs of residential and industrial buildings are widely successful, and there should be more that don’t negatively impact the land. For example, the Town of Athol could have insisted that the parking areas in the North Quabbin Commons be roofed to provide a place for solar panels. This has been done in other mall parking lots. This solar array saga will surely continue here and elsewhere, so please pay attention. 

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