Editorial: Give solar a chance

  • A screenshot of an early site rendering created by BlueWave Solar that shows three proposed solar arrays off of Pine Meadow Road in Northfield. Screenshot

Published: 2/10/2021 5:02:00 PM

The environment is something that Western Massachusetts residents hold close to their hearts. We’re surrounded by nature’s wonders that we want to protect from the harmful effects of climate change and we do so in a variety of ways, whether it’s by purchasing electric vehicles or by supporting the conservation of healthy forestland.

So it took us by surprise when a proposed solar project that would produce 10.5 megawatts of power began to receive pushback.

Four Star Farms and its developers, BlueWave Solar and Field Engineering, have pitched the idea of constructing dual-use solar arrays off of Pine Meadow Road.

In their plan, Four Star Farms property owners Bonnie and Gene L’Etoile, have explained the arrays would be built higher off the ground than standard panels, and would involve no concrete footing or anchors beyond a single monopole in the ground. This design allows the existing farm soils to remain, such that farming can still be done below them.

If approved, the land under the panels will be converted to long-term pasture, and Jesse Robertson-DuBois of Finicky Farm is prepared to access the pasture for the new home of a sustainable small animal livestock operation.

However, not all Northfield residents have been receptive to Four Star Farms’ proposal. Pine Meadow Road resident Melissa Gamache started an online petition against the arrays called “Save Our Farm Land From Permanent Damage,” which had garnered nearly 150 signatures as of Tuesday night. During a Selectboard meeting, Gamache said area residents are concerned about the impact the solar arrays would have on their scenic views of the agricultural land.

With all due respect to the neighbors involved, the L’Etoiles do own the property in question and they deserve a say in what happens to it, provided their vision is in line with the town’s bylaws.

When considering Northfield’s Master Plan, last updated in 2014, the town hoped that it might “attract companies in the alternative energy and creative economy” through the creation of a new solar overlay zone in West Northfield, thus promoting economic development town-wide through the addition of new industries. One of the plan’s primary objectives is also to “promote sustainability measures,” with solar energy clearly falling into that category.

Might Northfield residents feel differently about the L’Etoiles’ proposal if it impacted West Northfield instead of a part of town made up largely of farmland? We don’t think their idea should be discounted because they chose to live on a different side of town, way back when they bought the former dairy farm in 1986.

That’s 35 years that Bonnie and Gene L’Etoile, followed by their sons, Jacob and Nathan, have nurtured about 250 acres of Northfield farmland. We think they deserve a chance to try solar, bringing their property into the future in an environmentally sustainable way in the process.

Under the L’Etoiles’ plan, the farmland won’t cease to exist. Robertson-DuBois would be able to use it for his small animal livestock operation.

“As a non-landowning farmer, the opportunity to secure a long-term lease and establish a viable, growth-oriented farm business would be a game-changer,” Robertson-DuBois has said.

While solar arrays may not be the most pleasing to the eye, it seems to us that the opportunities for growth outweigh the detriment. We’re talking about increasing our reliability on solar energy. Particularly in Massachusetts, clean energy is viewed as the way of the future, and we need to start taking steps to get there.

But this also may not be an all-or-nothing decision. The L’Etoiles and the developers have submitted applications to receive permits for three separate arrays based on their locations, and these applications can be approved or declined individually.

Ultimately, the Planning Board will need to decide whether to approve Four Star Farms’ proposal. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 18, although Chair Stephen Seredynski said he “doubts very much” that a vote will be taken that night.

While we hope the Planning Board is considerate of individuals’ concerns, we also hope that the focus is on what will be best for all of Northfield as a whole, and ultimately, the greater environment. We believe that means supporting solar, especially when the proposal has been as thoroughly thought out as this one.




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