North Quabbin Energy offers this response to the solar farm projects and proposals now appearing in our area:
Our position is always to emphasize energy conservation first and foremost, as a necessary condition for solving the various problems caused by our current over-consumption of power. However, we also realize that in order to remake our energy infrastructure in cleaner and more sustainable ways, it is crucial to expand the very small percentage of electricity available to public utilities from renewable sources. While realizing that there are advantages and disadvantages to all forms of energy generation, including solar and other renewable sources, in general we support the building of solar farms in our area. We believe that the benefits of added renewable energy capacity will in the long run outweigh most of the objections currently being raised by those who oppose these projects.
While we recognize that it is perhaps natural to question or resist the addition of large-scale new features to our area landscape, we are mindful of the much greater dangers and environmental costs linked with our current ways of generating electricity (for example, the destruction of mountains and poisoning of rivers in Appalachian coal-mining areas, the pollution of air in New England by coal-fired generating plants, the flooding of enormous areas of Quebec for the James Bay Hydroelectric Project, acquifer contamination by “fracking” for natural gas, storage of toxic spent fuel at nuclear power plants, oil extraction from tar sands that consumes more energy than it produces, and biomass electric plants that waste 75% of the potential energy in the wood they use). We believe it is naïve to think that we can continue to enjoy our comfortable lifestyle—even at a much lower rate of energy consumption—without some costs and compromises, and that the presence of solar farms, wind turbines, hydroelectric dams, and other renewable infrastructure is part of the reality of switching to a different way of producing electricity.
That said, we also believe that town, state, and regional governments should work to make sure that any solar farms approved for the North Quabbin area meet the following criteria:
- Ideally, solar farms should not be built on significant wildlife habitat and should not cover extensive amounts of prime farmland. Zoning boards should establish solar overlay districts to determine appropriate and inappropriate siting for solar farms. We recommend that those concerned about use of land for solar farms take a proposal to their town bylaw committee to initiate the process of creating zoning guidelines.
- Solar farm should offer some benefit to local communities beyond the generation of taxes. Ideally, such projects should help our region to become more energy self-sufficient (for example, by offering purchase agreements to municipal customers ).
- As part of any proposal, solar companies should guarantee that the panels they will use have been manufactured in ways that are safe for workers and the environment.
- There must be ongoing, widespread efforts to educate people about energy use, conservation, efficiency, to offset the possibility that the sight of large-scale solar farms will enourage many people to believe that our energy problems are “solved” when in fact we have still only made very small steps in that direction.
- Incentive programs should continue to reward small-scale and individualized solar power generation as well as larger-scale solar farms. This will help our developing renewable infrastructure to become more widely distributed and localized rather than attempting to reproduce the current centralized and large-scale model of generation, which separates consumers from the sources of their energy and reinforces unrealistic expectations that any large-scale replacement for our current consumption levels is feasible.