My Turn: If we need both forests and solar, what can be done?

  • Solar panels on the roof of Turners Falls High School. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Published: 11/10/2021 6:40:30 AM

The COP26 climate summit resolved a contentious question facing Massachusetts communities — do we advance solar at all costs or do we try to preserve forests? The answer is now clear — definitively both.

When President Biden, joined with over 100 nations committing to prevent global deforestation he said “Preserving forests and other ecosystems can and should play an important role in meeting our ambitious climate goals.”

For the past 20 years Massachusetts has allowed significant deforestation especially in Central and Western Massachusetts.

In 2021, Clark University, released research documenting 703 solar installations in Massachusetts through 2019 totaling 6,850 acres — 49% or 3,356 acres are sited on forest land. Forty-four of these are large-scale industrial installations over 24 acres in size.

The state’s solar program, SMART allows clear cutting of forests to install industrial solar. Cutting trees is a cheap, profitable method for developers. National and international corporations come to Massachusetts to secure land, cut acres of trees and collect money. In the process they release carbon and remove the ability of the forest to sequester future carbon.

Some municipalities have tried to create reasonable regulations; unfortunately the SJC recently agreed to hear a case which could deny municipalities’ ability to moderate solar deforestation.

If we need both forests and solar, what can be done? The state should incentivize carbon sequestration by encouraging the upgrading conservation our forests rather than simply protecting working forests. SMART regulations should prohibit large-scale clear cutting. State incentives should make it profitable to develop solar on “disturbed” land (like brown fields) or in the built environment (parking lots, mall roofs).

State law should be changed to allow municipalities to reasonably regulate industrial solar (while encouraging small-scale residential). If there is any chance of preventing catastrophic warming, we need to protect the carbon sequestration “machines” we have now — trees. They are a necessary part of the solution. 

Michael DeChiara lives in Shutesbury.


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