Planning Board: 'Be proactive, not reactive' when it comes to solar farms

By Andrea Ray | Jul 11, 2017
Photo by: Andrea Ray Borrego Solar representative Steve Long addressed the Rochester Planning Board.

Rochester — Faced with a room full of solar farm protestors, Rochester Planning Board Chairman Arnie Johnson laid down the law on July 11, telling solar farm opponents to be more proactive in the future or watch more open land disappear.

“If townspeople see large pieces of property, they should be more proactive in acquiring the rights to those properties,” he said. “The Rochester Land Trust is doing an amazing job, but there is not enough money to cover every property in town.”

Johnson was speaking to a meeting room packed with opponents of a solar farm that is proposed for installation at 453 Rounseville Road, near the center of Rochester.

Borrego Solar is proposing to use a 67-acre lot on the property to erect 9,000 solar panels. The solar panel installation itself will cover 13 acres. The proposal also includes clearing seven acres worth of trees to make room for a berm and an 8' fence with a berm around the entirety of the property.

Opponents addressed the loss of character, rural ambience, natural habitat and property values they felt would occur as a result of the installation.

“The plan we've given was the plan we developed based off of an initial technical review done by the town," said Borrego Solar representative Steve Long. "We did what your bylaws asked -- we created a berm and a fence so that nobody could see the solar farm. That requires tree clearing.”

Dale Bindas of 14 Mendell Road was not pleased with the explanation. "What we're losing is the town's rural character, which you wouldn't understand, since you don't live here," he told Long.

The attendees professed irritation with the board’s inability to stop more solar farms from entering town. “You tell us what we can and can’t do,” Bindas told the board members. “You have some teeth.”

“All of you are new to this,” board member John DeMaggio replied, addressing the room. “The members of the board have been here before. This is not our first rodeo with solar farms.”

He explained that Massachusetts is a very pro-solar state, that has backed solar farms to the point of excusing them from many town bylaws. “When it comes to something backed by the state, we have very little power.”

Johnson had a question of his own for the meeting attendees.

"How many of you showed up to Town Meeting this year to vote?” he asked.

Three or four people raised their hands into the air hesitantly.

"Well I've got to tell you, that is pretty piss poor," he said. "All these regulations were passed by people who went to Town Meeting. Be proactive, not reactive. The last solar program dragged on a year and a half," he continued, "and I didn’t see any of you here in this room to fight that one. A lot of people fought for the right for us to go town meeting, where one vote can make a difference. With 4,000 registered voters and more coming in every day, we had to move the quorum for this town from 100 to 75 people. That’s shameful."

“Understand one thing," added fellow board member Gary Florindo. "We’re all in the same boat and we are as aggravated by solar farms as you. But we work in the best interest of you and we can only follow what we all put in the books. We regulate based on bylaws that the people of Rochester built in as time went along. What we have to live with is what we built, so we can hold it the way it is. This project comes from the state, and that is above all of us."

He noted that two years ago, the town attempted to pass a bylaw at Town Meeting which would restrict solar farms to Rochester’s industrial zone. The proposed bylaw was nixed by Town Counsel Blair Bailey, who said that due to the industrial zone’s small size, Massachusetts’ Attorney General would see the proposal as effectively banning solar farms from Rochester.

“If you don’t like this, call your state rep and tell them enough green energy is enough,” said board member Ben Bailey. “It isn’t green anymore, we’re tearing up fields and forests, and putting these projects in the middle of residential neighborhoods. Try and get them to stop shoving this stuff down our throats.”



Comments (1)
Posted by: Ted North | Jul 12, 2017 17:13

To Rochester’s Concerned citizens’

67 acres with a manufacturing plant consisting of 9,000 solar panels used to produce electricity for commercial sale to the electrical grid looks like an industrial project to me. Without looking at Rochester’s zoning my bet is, this project is inappropriately sited in a rural or residentially zoned district.

This is an electoral generating plant and from a zoning prospective should be treated no differently than a coal, gas fired or nuclear electrical generating plant all producing the same product fungible elections for sale to the grid.

This project needs to be in a Rochester industrial district.

The belief that solar projects are a special statutory protected sacred cow is a legal fiction. Rochester is not excluding solar only regulating where it can be located.

Below are two Massachusetts land court decisions you should read.

After you read then, find a good smart and aggressive lawyer to fix Rochester’s solar problems once and for all. Rochester probably has the tools already in place to do so.

Do not be bullied by a solar developer. Yes, you will litigate this but that is part of the normal process.


BRIGGS vs. MARION, MISC 13-477257

Do not repeat Marion’s solar zoning blunder by adopting solar bylaws which will now this type project in a residentially zoned distinct by special permit.

Ted North, Marion and former planning board member

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