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Solar arrays should not be built just anywhere


  • Solar array at Adams Farm on Bearsden Road in Athol. Mike Phillips

  • Solar array near Market Basket in Athol. Mike Phillips

  • Solar array at Hunt Farm in Orange. Mike Phillips

Published: 6/13/2018 10:33:29 PM
Modified: 6/13/2018 10:33:38 PM

I’m a big fan of alternative energy. Clearly, it’s time for humans to reduce, and eventually, eliminate the use of fossil fuels, as climate change is scientifically proven to be a serious threat to the planet.

There are various forms of alternative energy, including hydro (from dammed rivers) and wind, but the most rapidly growing one is photovoltaic or solar energy. As solar arrays are being constructed in our region, it is time for a serious look at where they are being built and their overall impact.

Siting, quantity and size of these arrays are all issues to be considered, as well as their impact on the environment. Wise regulation of photovoltaic production must be developed and utilized.

The Athol Board of Planning and Community Development is required to act on an application from a solar developer to cover a portion of the eastern slope above Tully Lake with one of these solar arrays. An initial hearing on this project has been continued to Wednesday, June 20, at 7:45 p.m. in Liberty Hall (ground floor of Memorial Building). The land, previously considered for a housing development but rejected after vocal opposition was expressed, is now owned by William Jardus Trustees (et. al) Edward C. Jardus Living Trust.

I submitted a written comment to the board and I hope others will do so. Or, better yet, attend the hearing. Here’s what I submitted:

“Please do whatever you can to stop the construction of a large solar array on the slope that goes down to Tully Lake from Chestnut Hill Avenue. As you know from previous hearings about the use of this land, large numbers of people do not want that slope degraded. Tully Lake Recreation Area is one of the most important public recreation areas in the entire region, attracting thousands of people, and more, annually. People hiking and paddling in the Tully Lake area do not want to see an industrial installation, which is what a solar array is. They want to see green forests and blue sky and beautiful clean waterways. We need solar energy production, but only in appropriate locations. This developer should not be allowed to degrade the Tully Lake Recreation Area. Many people, including me, have been involved in an effort to promote appreciation for our natural resources, and to use these resources as a source of economic improvement through ecotourism. Please respect those efforts, which have been growing and starting to yield results. Thank you.”

Right now, another large solar array, having been given the green light by the Orange Planning Board, is under construction in West Orange on a forested plateau northwest of the intersection of West Orange Road and Haskins Road. A 60-acre healthy forest teeming with wildlife is being cut down to make way for solar panels. The developers have hired Orange forester Fred Heyes to cut down the trees. While Fred and I agree on the benefits of “managed forestry,” this has nothing to do with managed forestry. This is about destruction of the forest for another purpose — theoretically a good purpose — but many things are not taken into consideration, such as the impact on wildlife, water quality and carbon sequestration.

It is reasonable for any town, including Orange with its historic commitment to rural values, to limit the number of solar arrays within its borders. Sacrificing forest and farmland should not be without limits. While the Orange Planning Board and Conservation Commission reviewed this plan and supposedly had no basis to stop it, the board members could have issued a statement of concern — as they had every right to do. After all, the words “planning” and “conservation” have meaning!

Some of my feelings about this project are admittedly personal, because I have seen my good friend Rice Flanders, 122 West Orange Road, crying her eyes out because she is losing that woodland behind her house that she has practically worshipped for more than four decades.

I try hard not to be hypocritical — and thus, for full disclosure — I need to mention that I am currently consuming electric power from a solar array in Rutland. I did this through Community Energy Solar LLC, which is based in Radnor, Penn. I’m billed monthly, and don’t pay anything to National Grid, unless I go over my average monthly consumption. I thus save money and support alternative energy at the same time. The Rutland array is on six acres of a former hayfield, dubbed “retired farmland,” and Community Solar’s arrangement with the landowner calls for future dismantling of the solar equipment (when it is no longer useful) and allowing the land to be returned to other uses.

Finally, please don’t call these industrial installations “solar farms.” They do not create food to eat; they manufacture power. 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.

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