Massachusetts zoning laws generally enable municipalities to regulate the siting and design of large industrial projects. However, state law, MGL Ch40A, Sec. 3, paragraph 9 which was established in 1985, specifically limits municipalities' ability to regulate solar projects. At the time it was established the law was intended to assist residential and small-scale solar; large-scale industrial photovoltaic installations were not yet envisioned.
MGL Ch40A states that municipalities cannot unreasonably regulate ANY solar except for public health, welfare or safety. This means that towns trying to reasonably site industrial solar to protect agriculture, forests or wetlands/water can and are being sued as being unreasonable. These threats and towns' concern about being sued has resulted in many thousands of acres of forest and farms to be lost to solar facilities.
CURRENT LEGISLATIVE ACTION:
Bill H.4331 is legislation that would establish a municipality’s right to reasonably regulate solar power locations.
To pass, it must first be moved out of committee (in this case the Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy (TUE) committee) to be considered for a vote by the House and then the Senate by July 30. Representative Jeffrey Roy is the House Chair of the TUE committee and can decide to move the bill out of committee and to a vote. If the bill doesn't get voted now, we won't have another chance with the legislature for 1- 2 YEARS!
WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW.
1) Email (Jeffrey.Roy@mahouse.gov) or call Representative Jeffrey Roy TODAY (617-722-2030). See language below.
2) Also Email Jake Oliveira (Jacob.Oliveira@mahouse.gov), the House Representative who filed this bill. He needs the support in pushing it through. A quick email of thanks is also great.
3) If you are in Shutesbury or Franklin County, cc: Rep. Natalie Blaise, who is supportive and a sponsor of H4331. Natalie.Blais@mahouse.gov
Time is of the essence! Use the following letter or personalize it as you wish:
Dear Representative Roy,
I'm writing to urge you to bring Massachusetts House bill H.4331 to a floor vote OR to include it in the any relevant House climate bill. H.4331 will clearly establish the right of municipalities to balance addressing climate change through solar development with protecting vital natural resources that are essential for sustainability in a warming world. While I am very much in support of solar expansion when located appropriately, solar development should not come at the cost of forests, wetlands, agriculture, which are also critical components to a livable future. Trees for example, are part of the climate solution since they are the only known mechanism for carbon sequestration and storage.
I am particularly concerned with the SJC's recent Waltham decision because it can be used by corporations to argue that any regulation that limits solar development can be antithetical to the interests of the Commonwealth. Such a determination would be extremely detrimental to the small communities in Western MA who do not have the financial resources to take on the multi-national companies that regularly threaten legal action and will likely be emboldened by the SJC decision.
Towns and cities need the ability to reasonably regulate large scale solar like they do for most zoning. We can have high levels of solar development AND protection of our crucial natural resources.
[Your Name and Town ]
Other points you can make:
Solar should not be at the expense of
• Carbon storage and sequestration which we need to mitigate climate change.
• Water, in the form of wetlands, drinking wells, water systems
• Active agriculture – vibrant local food sources are more important than ever.
2. Get more co-sponsors for the bill. Currently H.4331 has 4 co-sponsors – Rep. Oliveira, Rep. Blais, Rep. Sabadosa and Rep. Duffy. The bill needs more co-sponsors to build momentum and political clout.
Ask your state representative to co-sponsor (if they have, ask them to request a hearing from Rep Roy). Find your state rep here
Ask potentially supportive representatives to co-sponsor. There are state reps that have supported other bills regarding climate, forests or the environment and also members of the TUE committee. You can contact them with a quick email or call their office and ask them to co-sponsor H4331. List with contact info is here.
3. Forward this email to friends and your networks. Legislators respond when they hear from people across the state.