My Turn: Solar, trees and climate change

  • Wendell State Forest. FILE PHOTO

Published: 1/11/2023 10:42:56 PM
Modified: 1/11/2023 10:39:49 PM

Last month, the 2022 Massachusetts Climate Change Assessment was released. Among the most urgent impacts of climate change to the commonwealth stated in the report was forest health degradation, caused by warming temperatures, increased precipitation, increased wildfire frequency, and increasing pest occurrence.

The opinion page of this newspaper regularly include letters expressing contempt for clear-cutting for commercial solar arrays, while disregarding the benefits of solar power. They want to save all the trees to protect us from the harmful carbon emissions solar arrays help end. Such logic fails to see the forest for the trees.

The notion of preserving every tree in the forest even made its way into a survey issued by my local open space and recreation committee. One question asked how much I valued the preservation of forests to mitigate climate change. It read to me like a carefully framed question to influence opinions and elicit specific responses to validate the pursuit of a certain agenda informed by disingenuous claims made repeatedly in the newspaper.

Nobody is disputing the benefits of forests, and nobody is seeking to supplant too much forest with solar panels. Forests and solar panels can co-exist to benefit and complement each other, but citizens weren’t asked that question.

Solar panels provide more carbon neutral energy than trees recapture, an inconvenient truth for some. Put another way, in light of the danger climate change poses to forests: Commercial solar arrays do more to protect the forest than the trees cleared to build it. Indeed, we also need to dramatically decrease our fossil fuel usage for it to be a meaningful impact. But we can’t decrease fossil fuel usage without more alternative energy sources to replace fossil fuels, and most of the state’s energy consumption still comes from those fossil fuels.

Another often-cited alternative to clear-cutting trees is to relegate solar arrays to roofs and parking lots, an unhelpful solution also perpetuated by Jacob Olivera (D-Ludlow), who was recently elected to state Senate.

“There are plenty of rooftops and parking lots where solar should be placed,” he said. “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.”

I hope Beacon Hill is more thoughtful than the Democrat from Ludlow. Relegating solar panels to roofs and parking lots is an astoundingly inefficient solution. It is dangerous and irresponsible for a civic leader to validate it like an unproven claim of a stolen election.

The strategy would release more greenhouse gases and take an unreasonable amount of time. Each roof and parking lot would be a separate project starting from scratch. Dirty trucks would need to deliver solar panels to more sites, dirty equipment would be used to build solar canopies over parking lots, contractors would need to drive to more locations, and it will all cost much, much more to accomplish. Then there is the added cost of removing and replacing an array when it comes time to repair or replace a roof.

Those who oppose commercial solar arrays in certain locations don’t seem to understand or acknowledge the fact that developers need an array to be economically viable, as well. It needs to be located near appropriate access to the electric grid, for example. And you won’t find that access to the grid where nobody goes.

We don’t have time on our side when it comes to mitigating the effects of climate change. It is going to require a certain amount of sacrifice from all of us, whether we like it or not. It’s the price we pay for not addressing climate sooner. We have to clear-cut some trees as one part of the solution. Massachusetts has plenty of forest. Forests make up over 60% of the commonwealth, and we can always plant more trees. There is no time for disingenuous arguments, local obstruction, and pandering politicians. There won’t be forests to recapture carbon if we don’t make the necessary sacrifice now. We need to start seeing the forest for the trees.

Michael Seward lives in Shelburne.


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