Solar Farm Controversy Flares In Springfield

Solar Farm Controversy Flares In Springfield

Developer Says NextGrid “Dumbfounded By The Opposition”

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, APRIL 22, 2024…..A Springfield state representative on Earth Day made the case that a solar energy farm being planned in his city will have negative impacts on water and trees.

Rep. Angelo Puppolo Jr. signaled Monday that he normally supports renewable energy projects but is encouraging NextGrid to explore alternative locations for a project currently being eyed for the Sixteen Acres area along the Five Town Plaza.

Puppolo, in a letter to NextGrid’s director of development Daniel Serber, said he has “significant concerns” about the project, including the “substantial risk to the ecosystem of the area.” He warned the project could also worsen traffic in the busy area.

In an interview, Serber told the News Service he has not seen the letter or been contacted by Puppolo directly.

“I join with the many residents who have contacted me and who have expressed their strong concerns on many aspects of this proposal including regarding the ongoing water issue that will adversely impact the area,” Puppolo wrote in a letter, dated Wednesday, which was shared with the News Service Monday.

“The proposed Solar Array poses the serious risk of displacing water underneath the trees and would result in their removal should the plan take effect,” Puppolo continued. “Detention Ponds may aid somewhat in this situation, but there may be additional adverse effects in removing trees and replacing them with the installation of heavy buildings and equipment.”

Puppolo said the project would be situated in an overgrown wooded area that’s been undeveloped for as long as he can remember. Puppolo said he wants to promote better collaboration between NextGrid and residents, who he said have complained about their inability to offer feedback on the project so far.

“Let’s put the brakes on it and try to work a little more closely with the neighborhood,” said Puppolo, who suggested NextGrid could offer incentives to nearby residents, such as discounted solar prices. “If you’re going to move forward with this project, let’s try to make it as neighborhood-friendly as it possibly can be.”

Serber said NextGrid, which is planning to purchase the land parcel next week, has already modified its proposal to incorporate stormwater and groundwater concerns from residents. The developer now plans to install retention and infiltration ponds, as well pollinator grasses, Serber said.

The project would occupy or impact about 350,000 square feet, some of which would be replanted with landscaping buffers, he said. The remaining 209,000 square feet of the property, or about 4.7 acres, would be designated as conservation land.

“We’re committed to doing everything not only by the book, but exceeding all requirements that would be in any community. We’re kind of dumbfounded by the opposition,” Serber said. “If you look at the scientific evidence and the civil engineering, it’s pretty easy to see it’s going to be really impossible for water to escape.”

Juan Latorre, who lives near the project site, voiced his worry about the future of the urban woodlands.

“Cutting down mature urban woodlands for the purpose of building a solar panel array in an environmental justice community like Springfield is not representative of great municipal and state planning as we work to address the climate crisis and our 2050 climate goals,” Latorre told the News Service.

Calling himself the dean of the Springfield delegation, Puppolo in his letter urged Serber to consider his opposition to the project.

“Although the project claims not to encroach on designated wetlands, there still may be large amounts of water underneath the proposed area that could be in jeopardy if the surrounding ecosystem is disturbed,” Puppolo wrote. “It is crucial that an alternative for this location be explored.”

The local controversy comes as elected officials across the commonwealth are also celebrating Earth Day, with many using the opportunity to promote the transition to clean energy.

A proclamation honoring Earth Day, signed by Gov. Maura Healey, Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll, and Secretary of State Bill Galvin, states that “Massachusetts remains committed to protecting our environment, safeguarding public health, and leading the transition from fossil fuels through the combined efforts of all its agencies and under the leadership of the Office of Climate Innovation and Resilience and the Executive Office of Energy and Environment.”

Healey’s office on Monday also celebrated Massachusetts securing $156 million in federal funding through the Solar for All competition, which will help more low-income and disadvantaged communities benefit from solar energy.

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