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October 28, 2022

State House protesters call for limits on solar projects

Photo | Sam Drysdale A grassroots group of organizers from around the state protested Thursday in Ashburton Park, next to the State House, calling for a moratorium on state financing for large industrial solar projects on forested lands.

With signs proclaiming "Save Our Forests" and "Be Wise," activists from across the state convened outside the State House on Thursday afternoon before making their way to Gov. Charlie Baker's office to deliver a petition calling for a moratorium on state financing for large industrial solar projects.

The petition, which supporters said had 1,400 signatures, aims to limit new ground-mounted solar projects to five acres or less and direct state subsidies to solar projects sited on rooftops or existing infrastructure.

Activists present on Thursday said more than 4,000 acres of forested land, open space and farmland have been cleared in Massachusetts for ground-mounted solar.

"We're really killing the planet in order to save it," said Meg Sheehan, a volunteer for Plymouth-based advocacy organization Save the Pine Barrens.

The petition takes issue with Massachusetts' SMART solar subsidy program, which the activists said uses taxpayer and ratepayer money to subsidize industrial solar projects "being inappropriately sited on forested lands, farmlands, wetlands and Native American cultural sites."

The Department of Public Utilities issued an order doubling the SMART program, which provides incentives to make solar energy economically feasible to municipalities, last year. The coalition supporting the moratorium calls the subsidy program "solar gone wrong."

Their goal is not to shut down solar energy, said Warren Conservation Commission chair Joyce Eichacker, but to move forward "more wisely" in already built areas, such as parking lots, rooftops and existing infrastructure in urban areas, and on the verge and in the median of the Mass Pike.

Warren and other parts of central Massachusetts have been targeted for ground-mounted solar, Eichacker said.

"Between [Warren and Charlton] we have over 130 megawatts combined between our two towns and we have lost plenty of forest, probably 700 to 800 acres combined. It's so devastating," she said.

Sheehan, who is from Plymouth, chimed in that the southeastern part of the state has also been "targeted."

Candidate for Norfolk County Commissioner Matthew Sheehan joined the activists Thursday afternoon, standing against the county commission's engagement in a "destructive 30-acre ground-mounted solar project."

The Norfolk County Commission's proposed project on the campus of the Norfolk Agricultural School would require a clear-cut of four acres of trees, according to WBZ.

"It's overwhelmingly against the wishes of the constituents, and they are ignoring people's cries to implement solar in other, more appropriate locations," Sheehan said.

Mass Audubon, the Massachusetts Land Trust Association, the New England Forestry Foundation and others in the coalition of grassroots nonprofits support the petition for a statewide moratorium on large scale solar farms.

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