Opposition to solar PV field at new Hanlon-Deerfield school, Westwood, MA

(Updated 2020-10-07, 17:36)


This is sometimes was called the “Shuttleworth Solar Field Project”.

In addition to building a combined pair of schools on Town of Westwood property, there is a proposal for building a 2 MW solar array on adjacent land, some of which has trees. There will be 11.4 acres of trees removed, with up to 2 acres needing to be removed to accomodate the school itself.

This array, after capacity factor considerations, will generate 2.46 GWh of electricity per year, with a production rate of about 216 MWh per acre per year, and will offset emissions of 590 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Below shows the general area. The school expansion will replace the existing Hanlon school:

There is opposition. Some concerned loss of Carbon sequestration, but that’s negligible in loss of 12 acres of trees:

ForestsCarbonAndSolarProjects–JGalkowski20200928

The remaining opposition is a little mixed, having to do with Town of Westwood politics and administration, but there is opposition to the solar array as an “industrial facility”, including claims which are egregiously false, coming from out of date and questionable sources. More on that below. To see the particulars, here’s the text of a related petition being circulated for signature, in its entirety. I have added emphasis to one paragraph.

Reconsider Location of Solar Field Project

To: Members of the Select Board, Members of the Planning Board, Christopher Coleman Town Administrator, Open Space and Recreation Plan Committee, Thomas Philbin Westwood Energy Manager
CC: Westwood School Committee Members, Emily Parks Westwood Superintendent,

Regarding: Installation plan for Solar Field at Shuttleworth location

To whom it may concern,

Recent information about the plan for the installation of a solar field at the Shuttleworth land location has led to a large concern and discussion among Westwood residents. We are asking you to reconsider this project and allow the town residents to have a say in whether this project should proceed in the currently proposed location of Shuttleworth Field.

Our concerns stem from 3 main areas;

1. The clearing of an additional ~12 acres of established trees and wooded area

While we appreciate the Town of Westwood’s focus on renewable energy, we feel that the carbon offset and cost savings that the installation of a solar field on the Shuttleworth property provides, does not adequately justify the destruction of established growth forests and wildlife habitats. We are not disputing the benefit of solar energy, it is the location and the destruction of forests and wildlife habitat that are of concern here. We would ask that instead, other areas (building rooftops, already cleared areas) should be considered for the installation of solar panels.

The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources “strongly discourages locations that result in significant loss of land and natural resources, including farm and forest land, and encourages rooftop siting, as well as locations in industrial and commercial districts, or on vacant, disturbed land. Significant tree cutting is problematic because of the important water management, cooling, and climate benefits trees provide.” (“Model Zoning for the Regulation of Solar Energy Systems”, Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs December 2014).

There are also concerns about the production of toxic wastes, including coolants, antifreeze, rust inhibitors, and heavy metals, that can affect wildlife adjacent to or far from the location of the facility (Abbasi and Abbasi 2000).

The town is already committed to the highly vetted Elementary School Building project which will utilize approximately 9 acres of the Shuttleworth property. The town determined this project to be an acceptable and valuable way to use this land when community members voted to allocate significant funds for the project at the 2018 Town Meeting, knowing that Shuttleworth Field would be a potential site for the new school. Fully clearing an additional 12 acres in the same area for a Solar Field would have an unacceptable and negative impact on the environment as well as having a negative impact on the new elementary building which was not designed to be near an industrial solar field, but rather is intended to be a “school in the woods”.

The community has not had the opportunity to vet the solar field project or to understand the environmental or potential health impacts of a solar field. No environmental impact studies have been presented to the community.

2. Possible Loss of Millions of dollars in state funding for New School Building Project

It was discussed in the Select Board meeting on July 13th and indicated in the “Solar Power In Westwood Municipal and School Facilities” presentation that the land would be transferred to the School Department and the solar field and the Hanlon school project would be linked. That transfer of land would require a vote at town meeting. This left most citizens believing, incorrectly, that they would have an opportunity to hear more and have a say in the matter at town meeting and also that the Solar Field had become a new component of the School Building Initiative.

In the August presentation deck “SOLAR POWER IN WESTWOOD MUNICIPAL AND SCHOOL FACILITIES Thomas Philbin Westwood Energy Manager August 2020” there is no further discussion of a land transfer. Instead the next steps indicate, “Approval by Select Board to proceed with Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) and land lease that Ameresco can proceed with: a. Design Approval by Eversource b. Town of Westwood Planning Board site plan review”. There is nothing indicating that the plan will be vetted with the community and in the absence of a land transfer, there is no requirement that the Select Board bring this to town meeting for a vote. Nothing in the presentation deck addresses any of these changes or the removal of the School District as a partner.

This has created confusion among residents. There is concern that residents may now believe that the Solar Field and School Project are linked and that they will mistakenly undermine the school project in their efforts to stop the solar field. The town is on track to receive millions of dollars in state funding for the new school building. For comparison sake, the Solar Field is expected to save the town $70,000 a year. Even if we received a conservative $10 million in funding for the new school from the MSBA, we would have to run the solar field for approximately 140 years to reap the same financial benefit from the solar field as the state support for our new building. The town simply can not afford to lose state funding for the School Building due to the confusion that has been created in the absence of effective communication.

3. The rights of the town members to vote on this project

We elect the members of the Select Board, the Planning Board, and the other committees in town to serve as our representatives and to look out for the best interest of Westwood. We also expect regular two way communication so that our elected officials understand the pulse of the community. Many of us have feel strongly that there has been weak public outreach and general lack of transparency for the solar field project. To the best of our knowledge there was no effort made to reach out to stakeholders, including the School Committee, townspeople who use the impacted trails and land, or taxpayers in general.

The current project that the Select Board is looking to initiate does not support the ideals of the town of Westwood residents to develop land prudently and judiciously and does not provide sufficient benefit to warrant the destruction of established woods and wildlife habitat.

We urge you to examine the impact the solar field project would have on our town and our families and reconsider it in its current proposed location. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Concerned residents of Westwood

Twitter – @SaveShuttlewor1
Facebook – SAVE WESTWOOD SHUTTLEWORTH FROM INDUSTRIAL SOLAR PANEL PROJECT

Model Zoning for the Regulation of Solar Energy Systems – Department of Energy Resources Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. December 2014. https://www.mass.gov/doc/model-solar-zoning

Abbasi SA Abbasi N. 2000. The likely adverse environmental impacts of renewable energy sources. Applied Energy 65: 121–144

That article is included below as a PDF. It makes reference to two others, one by Harte & Jassby (1978), also included below, and another key one by Siddayao (1993) which is not publicly available.

TheLikelyAdverseEnvironmentalImpactsOfRenewableEnergySources–Abbasi–Abbsai2000

EnergyTechnologiesAndNaturalEnvironments–TheSearchForCompatibility–Harte–Jassby1978

They are old, and some of the claims regarding environmental effects of solar PV arrays are simply not applicable to modern solar PV.

In any case, where this was circulated, in an e-democracy.org forum called “Westwood Neighbors, I put in two comments, both of which are reproduced below. They remain in moderation as of 18:30 23:39 on 29th September 2020, despite having been submitted 3 hours ago. (The moderators are, of course, volunteers.)

The first comment challenged the facts in the emphasized paragraph above:

I’d like to object to the text of the petition on some points of information, specifically the paragraph that reads:

There are also concerns about the production of toxic wastes, including coolants, antifreeze, rust inhibitors, and heavy metals, that can affect wildlife adjacent to or far from the location of the facility (Abbasi and Abbasi 2000).

Firstly, both Abbasi and Abbasi (2000), and the primary references upon which they rely (Harte, 1978 and Siddayao, 1993) are old and entirely speculative papers, not having the benefit of having actual solar energy systems to assess. Harte (1978) does no calculations, and simply declares a comparison. The Siddayao report cannot be criticized, because individuals cannot obtain access to it. (It’s only available to institutions who subscribe to the World Bank eLibrary.) Indeed, we don’t know what it says.

Second, no matter, actual, modern PV systems have no coolants, have no antifreeze, have no rust inhibitors, and some manufacturers use no heavy metals, e.g., SunPower,

https://newsroom.sunpower.com/2019-12-19-SunPower-Wins-Solar-Industry-Sustainability-Award.

Also, panels are pretty well sealed so it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where these could leak out or rust, so whoever the manufacturer is, the claim about affecting wildlife is egregiously false.

Claire and I opted for SunPower panels on our home because of their sustainability record. Also, technically, at the end of their life, our purchase contract says SunPower gets the panels back so they can recycle them.

Third, contrary to what’s implied in the statement from Massachusetts DEP that “…. loss of land and natural resources, including farm and forest land …”, solar panels are entirely compatible with farms and farming, albeit a new kind called agrivoltaics. See additional references below:

Smart solar installations don’t use pesticides. They use goats.

Fourth, it’s entirely possible to have solar farms coexist with and support pollinators:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kjch9SrqVGw

That was one comment I made and, as shown, it objected to incorrect facts.

A second comment I made was an opinion, and it is based upon the unfairness of using wealthy (predominantly white) to consume electricity generated near neighborhoods of relatively less well off:

I just sent in a post questioning facts in the petition statement. In this post, I’d like to offer an opinion. Because it’s an opinion, I did not want to associate it with the other.

Specifically, I think it’s interesting that residents of wealthy suburban towns don’t want their views “spoiled” by appearance of solar PV farms. Surely the towns and residents use electricity.

Where does that electricity come from? Most of it comes from natural gas combustion and some from oil fired combustion. These are fed by pipelines and trucks.

And where are these plants located? Everett, Ludlow, Charlton, Blackstone, Bellingham. Billerica, Chelsea, Braintree. As fractions of the median household income of Westwood ($129,000, per Wikipedia), these have median household incomes of 0.38, 0.47, 0.72, 0.56, 0.62, 0.68, 0.37, and 0.63. The plants produce ACTUAL airborne and water pollution, and harm the families and children growing up there. Oh, and the people there have beautiful views of belching smokestacks.

Fair is fair. It’s time that people in suburbs began taking responsibility for the energy they consume, particularly now that it can be generated in a quiet and clean manner.

We’ll see where this goes.

On 5th October 2020, the Select Board of the Town of Westwood stopped the Shuttleworth solar project.

The Town is looking for other places to build solar farms. I wish them luck, and will support them, but, given the opposition to such in other towns in the area, I see an uphill fight.

See this more recent blog post regarding another aspect of this.

Afterthought

I’m not sure many in Westwood will believe me, but there are economic reasons for putting up solar fields, too, ones which go well beyond the revenue from electricity generation. As solar energy, broadly defined, comes to dominate electricity generation, and as electricity use expands, for transportation, for heating, for manufacturing, towns and homes without ample locally sourced and clean electrical energy will depreciate in value.  We are already seeing how homes with solar PV appreciate in worth when they sell, as documented by NREL and especially LBNLZillow says homes with solar panels sell for 4% more.

It is not difficult to imagine how, as the solar wave begins to dominate and distributed microgrids more the rule, towns and places to live which are self-reliant and “with it” are judged up-and-coming and more attractive to buy homes in and to live.

This is particularly important for Westwood, since nearly every towns around it has by-laws and programs to encourage development of solar. Soon the same will be true of battery storage.  Soon the same will be true of EVs versus ICE vehicles.  Noise ordinances could be tightened.  After all, you can buy electric motorcycles.

Above: Solar installations in the Town of Natick, Massachusetts.

Denouement

The Town of Westwood school board has decided to sever the development of the Hanlon-Deerfield school from the solar project. While this does not necessarily foreclose on the solar project there, it makes it far less likely.

What “denouement” refers to, however, is the revelation I had while attending the

I attended the “Climate Cocktails” event at the
Climate Adaptation Forum, a combination of UMass Boston Sustainable Solutions Lab, and the Environmental Business Council of New England. I came away more depressed than I have been in years. In short, in addition to constraining solutions to global warming to not proceed until climate and environment justice issues are co-resolved, to providing jobs, and avoiding “industrial solutions” or supporting big corporations in their solution, now the environmental progressives of Massachusetts — and possibly New England — have decided that build-out of inherently less spatially dense zero Carbon energy ought not disturb natural ecosystems. The reason is not practical, but seems to be motivated by some kind of idealistic purity, but probably has a lot to do with the unpopularity of building solar farms and the like in wealthy suburbs, per the above.

Accordingly I despair for our being able to get these solutions deployed in time. It is especially discouraging because we have inexpensive answers in hand, and the opposition to deployment in fields and forests is not based upon biologic science but, rather, some kind of naturalistic aesthetic.

What this means, of course, is that as these are delayed we will continue to emit greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, coming primarily from natural gas, and this will demand additional gas plants and additional pipelines. Moreover, in the end, it will be additional nuclear power, and exceeding temperatures that are safe checkpoints in trying to curtail climate disruption. We cannot do it by 2050, let alone 2035, and 2070 is more likely the place we’ll land.

What this means, in the end, is that solutions for global industrial scale drawdown of CO2 from atmosphere will be necessary, and there is a dangerous place where solar radiation management (“SRM”) may be a tempting option. And this will mean +4C is the place we should be seriously thinking about, not +2C.

This is not understood or appreciated. Just as it is not understood and appreciated that planting a trillion trees won’t do the job, and won’t make a dent as long as those natural gas plants continue to spew their burnt byproducts.

In summary, this is a bad day for Massachusetts, New England, and, to the degree this is now the settled sentiment of climate activists, the world. If I were Greta Thunberg, I would be very worried. For activists, if they get their way, have just tied the hands of the people who can solve the problem.

Postscript

It is also entirely possible that my perspective was disregarded in this forum because I’m an “old white guy”, steeped in engineering, maths, and science. That’s too bad. I have a lot to offer. And, in the sessions, I was told, essentially, that “data doesn’t matter”.

I wish these mirror images of the Republican Party and the Trumpists luck. They are going to need it.

About ecoquant

See http://www.linkedin.com/in/deepdevelopment/ and https://667-per-cm.net/about
This entry was posted in agrivoltaics, American Solar Energy Society, an uncaring American public, being carbon dioxide, bridge to somewhere, Carbon Worshipers, climate activism, climate disruption, climate economics, climate justice, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, decentralized electric power generation, distributed generation, ecocapitalism, ecomodernism, ecopragmatism, fossil fuel divestment, greenhouse gases, Greta Thunberg, Hermann Scheer, investment in wind and solar energy, ISO-NE, John Farrell, leaving fossil fuels in the ground, local generation, NIMBY, On being Carbon Dioxide, Our Children's Trust, photovoltaics, solar democracy, solar domination, solar energy, solar power, solar revolution, Talk Solar, Tony Seba, Westwood. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Opposition to solar PV field at new Hanlon-Deerfield school, Westwood, MA

  1. Pingback: Opposing Canadian hydropower, an opposition which supports local renewables? | 667 per cm

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