Petition seeks pause on solar subsidies for large-scale projects

  • Pine Meadow Road in Northfield is the planned site of 76 acres of solar arrays. CONTRIBUTED/JIMMY POWELL

Staff Writer
Published: 10/27/2022 8:18:51 PM
Modified: 10/27/2022 8:18:37 PM

BOSTON — A petition created by the Greenfield-based Save Massachusetts Forests and the Plymouth-based Save the Pine Barrens was delivered to Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday with more than 1,500 signatures from residents asking for a moratorium on state subsidies for large-scale solar projects.

The goal of the petition, which is directed at the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target subsidy program administered by the state Department of Energy Resources, is to support ratepayer subsidies going to solar projects that are sited on rooftops or existing infrastructure. Under the moratorium, projects that do not seek state subsidies would not be impacted. Organizers say the moratorium would allow municipalities time to consider local bylaws to best address concerns about solar, and allow the public and experts time to work with lawmakers and regulators to amend the state’s solar subsidy program.

The petition also seeks to limit new ground-mounted solar arrays to 5 acres or less. Organizers say large-scale projects lead to the destruction of forests, farmland, wetlands and Native American cultural sites, and threaten drinking water resources.

“By putting solar on forested land, we are killing the planet in the name of trying to save it,” Meg Sheehan, co-founder of Save the Pine Barrens, said in a statement. “These subsidies make it quicker and cheaper to build solar in forests than to plan, permit, lease and site solar projects in our built environment. We need a moratorium so our commonwealth can pause and think about the consequences of these subsidies.”

Janet Sinclair, co-founder of Save Massachusetts Forests and a resident of Shelburne Falls, explained the two organizations partnered to cover the eastern and western halves of the state, making the effort a statewide initiative.

“We were hearing about some large solar projects in and around Franklin County,” Sinclair said, referencing a planned solar array on farmland in Northfield. “It can be very intimidating for both the residents and public officials when a well-funded developer comes into our town. We often feel at a disadvantage.”

Many towns across the region have attempted to limit large-scale ground-mounted solar arrays. Most recently, Charlemont changed its bylaws pertaining to ground-mounted solar projects, citing the need to maintain both farmland and the scenic views that contribute to tourism.

However, Claire Chang, co-owner of Greenfield Solar, disagrees with a moratorium on all large-scale solar projects. Although she said some clear-cutting of forests for large-scale projects should not happen, she also said “there are many other ways to put in large solar systems, particularly on agricultural land where it does not impact soil, vegetation or livestock.” She also suggested building large-scale arrays on highway medians as a great use of space.

“We need to be building PV (photovoltaics) as fast as we can,” Chang argued.

Large ground-mounted solar installations in Northfield and Shutesbury have been hot-button issues that were approved on a municipal level. Sinclair explained that organizers with Save Massachusetts Forests and Save the Pine Barrens feel they need to stop this issue at a state level until “towns can better handle it.” The organizations clarified that they support new renewable energy sources as part of the state’s plan to address climate change, but not at the expense of natural resources.

In response to residents’ concerns, state Rep. Jacob Oliveira, who represented the 7th Hampden District, filed a bill last session that would allow recipients to regulate solar to “protect the public health, safety or welfare.”

“Responsible solar is an important part of meeting the commonwealth’s climate goals, but clear-cutting forests to build environmentally unfriendly solar farms does not help us meet those goals,” Oliveira said in a statement. “There are plenty of rooftops and parking lots where solar should be placed. That is why I’ve filed H.4331 to give cities and towns the tools they need to prevent the clear-cutting of land for solar farms.”

Bella Levavi can be reached at or 413-930-4579.


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