To the Editor:
Marion’s Energy Management Committee would like to take this opportunity to answer some questions and allay some concerns that were expressed in a Letter to the Editor in the May 24 issue of The Wanderer by Bendrix Bailey regarding installations of solar arrays. These so-called “solar farms” sprouting all over Massachusetts on both private and municipal land are clusters of photovoltaic panels that generate electricity directly from the sun. Similar installations are being discussed in Marion and nearby towns. The recent proliferation of solar farms across America is occurring because they are cost-effective, quiet, and easily screened from view by trees or fencing. A typical installation pays for itself in about 20 years at today’s electricity prices, but that’s without the rebates and tax credits that are presently available from federal and state programs. The pay-back time is much shorter after applying these incentives. Renewable power industries are also lowering unemployment in our state. In Massachusetts alone, the solar power industry now accounts for about 14,000 jobs, according to an article in The Boston Globe on May 27.
Mr. Bailey raises two main issues in his letter that we would like to address. The first is the economic feasibility. Massachusetts has provided incentives to spark the development of renewable energy, which has resulted in our state being one of the “greenest” in the country. Government support for energy generation is nothing new, however. In fact, every source of energy we rely on – oil, coal, natural gas, hydroelectric, and nuclear — would be substantially more expensive if it were not for subsidies on its development and distribution. An economic comparison of solar energy with other energy sources, therefore, must take into account the long-standing subsidies for existing power sources as well as incentives for solar installations. If support for traditionally generated electricity were removed, the price for power would be much higher, and the payback time for a solar array would be greatly shortened.
The other main point raised by Mr. Bailey is a concern that if incentives were to disappear, solar farms might be abandoned and possibly become financial burdens and/or structural hazards for a community. Clearly if a structure of any sort, solar farms included, is built on municipal property, a provision for decommissioning should be in place at the time of installation. It should be recognized, however, that in the case of a solar array, all of the investment in the project occurs at the time of construction, and the rebates and tax credits occur within the first few years of its life. If subsidies are no longer available after the panels are in place, there is no impact on an existing facility and thus no reason to abandon it. Mr. Bailey also expressed concern that a solar farm might pose a mechanical hazard to children, but it is unclear why this structure, with no moving parts, would be more attractive than any other equipment or facility.
Finally, the letter suggests that a solar farm would harm the environment by blocking rainfall from reaching the soil and by clear-cutting woodlands. In fact, rainwater runs off of each panel and drains between them to the surface, which is usually crushed stone or grass. Moreover, most solar farms are preferentially sited on land that had been cleared for another purpose, such as a dump, abandoned quarry, or unproductive field. The state’s Green Communities Act discourages tree removal in preparation for renewable energy facilities.
Solar farms are growing all over Massachusetts because they make sense economically and environmentally, as well as for their contribution toward reducing fossil fuel use. Planners must understand and consider the facts about solar arrays so that clear, sensible bylaws can be developed to ensure proper siting and installation, and to encourage communities to see the light in solar power.
Marion Energy Management Committee
The views expressed in the “Letters to the Editor” column are not necessarily those of The Wanderer, its staff or advertisers. The Wanderer will gladly accept any and all correspondence relating to timely and pertinent issues in the great Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester area, provided they include the author’s name, address and phone number for verification. We cannot publish anonymous, unsigned or unconfirmed submissions. The Wanderer reserves the right to edit, condense and otherwise alter submissions for purposes of clarity and/or spacing considerations. The Wanderer may choose to not run letters that thank businesses, and The Wanderer has the right to edit letters to omit business names. The Wanderer also reserves the right to deny publication of any submitted correspondence.