Large scale industrial solar development proposals are being brought before town planning boards and conservation commissions through western Massachusetts. The challenge presented to Belchertown in deciding on whether to issue a permit for the Cowls Inc/Blue Wave Corporation proposed large scale industrial solar plant is not unique. We are not the first town to have decide whether to permit such a project, so we can learn from our neighbors. The lesson from our neighbors: warning!
In October 2017, the town Planning and Select Boards in Orange, less than 30 miles away, approved a plan by West Orange Solar LLC to develop 60 acres of forested land for an industrial solar plant.
In December 2017, just two months later, another large scale industrial solar development was brought before the Orange Planning board. This one by NB Development LLC and logger Fred Hayes, with arrays on 64 acres of forested land. The Board granted the permit and the land was cleared this summer.
“When torrential rain caused damage to the West Orange Cemetery and flooded West Orange Road (Route 2A), the actual cause for the damage was obvious to area residents,” writes Allen Young in an article in the Athol Daily News on the growing issue of solar array placement in towns in western Massachusetts.
“The culprit was a recently cleared tract of dozens of acres of pristine forest being developed by logger Fred Heyes, with town boards having ignored the pleas of residents to take steps to deal with potential water runoff, wildlife devastation and other issues,” writes Young. “Looking back on the situation, Select Board member Jane Peirce pledged to agitated and angry residents that she would be more vigilant in the future.”
Let’s not make the same mistake in Belchertown that West Orange made in permitting this kind of large scale industrial solar plant on forested land. As we see happened in West Orange, approval of one such plan sets a precedent for approval of more. Let’s be vigilant for the future by planning with the long view and big picture in mind now.
Part of that long-view decision making may require the Planning Board and Conservation Commissions step into a broader understanding of their authority than maybe they are accustomed to.
Even if the Cowls Inc./BlueWave Corp proposal gets to a point where it checks off all the boxes that they are supposed to meet for permits to be issued (which it is far from), our Planning Board and Conservation Commission members have the ability to ask, do our permitting boxes adequately plan for the well being of our community? What are we not considering about how this with impact our environment and community?
And it is our responsibility as members of the community to encourage them to ask these questions and decide with our best future in mind.
- Lindsey Peterson, Belchertown Resident