Solarize Mass Williamstown (copy)

Rooftop solar panels, shown here on a home in Williamstown, should be pursued over large-scale land projects that threaten forests or farmland, activists say. At a Saturday rally in Greenfield, groups will call for the state to pause incentives for land-based projects larger than 5 acres.

GREENFIELD — Solar energy production can help Massachusetts reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, but climate activists say that large-scale solar projects should not come at the expense of destroying forests or farmland.

The state Department of Energy Resources estimated in 2019 that around 2,500 acres of trees had been cut down for solar projects in the previous 10 to 15 years. Some of the large projects, critics say, do more to enrich companies than to benefit communities or the environment.

Meg Sheehan, a volunteer with Save the Pine Barrens in southeastern Massachusetts, fears that rural communities are becoming “sacrifice zones for these large land-based solar projects” and said that incentives should be saved for rooftop solar projects.

Sheehan and other organizers of a Saturday rally in Greenfield are calling for the state to pause incentives to solar projects that take up more than 5 acres of land. People will gather from 1-4 p.m. in Energy Park at 50 Miles St. in Greenfield, and the event will include comments from speakers as well as live music. Another rally in Wareham at the same time will take place at Onset VFW at 4 Gibbs Ball Park Rd.

The Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, Save Massachusetts Forests and Save the Pine Barrens have collaborated to host the events. 

“It’s not just about getting off of fossil fuels. It’s about having a livable planet as well and having a just transition,” Sheehan said.

Janet Sinclair, a Shelburne Falls activist with Save Massachusetts Forests, said the current “push to electrify everything” cannot be done recklessly.

“Displacing our farmland and our forests is a bad idea,” Sinclair said. “Destroying our carbon sink isn’t going to be helpful.”

In Massachusetts’ “Interim Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030,” published in late December, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs said that even with maximal use of rooftop solar, energy needs “will require the installation of ground-mounted solar on approximately 60,000 acres of land in Massachusetts over the next thirty years.” The report states, however, that “all the land used for solar need not be forest or other natural landscape,” suggesting that lawns, fields, roads and parking lots could be used for solar projects.

The petition to pause large-scale solar incentives has received 219 signatures, and it says that proposed projects could take up more than 1,700 acres, including in Northfield, Shutesbury and Wareham.

Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle’s Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at djin@berkshireeagle.com, @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.

Statehouse reporter

Danny Jin is the Eagle's Statehouse reporter. A graduate of Williams College, he previously interned at The Eagle and The Christian Science Monitor.