Conservation Commission denies solar project over cranberry bogs

Sep 28, 2021

The Wareham Conservation Commission has voted down a proposal for a solar array over a cranberry bog in areas along the Weweantic River and Inland Bay on North Carver Road.

The project straddles the boundary of Wareham and Carver. BE RE LLC’s proposal has already been approved by Wareham’s Planning Board and Carver’s Planning Board and Conservation Commission — the farm straddles the two towns.

The solar farm, which would involve construction within wetlands and along the waterfront area of the Weweantic River, required Conservation Commission approval.

Conservation Administrator Dave Pichette said at the commission’s Sept. 15 meeting that it is his belief that the project would have negative impacts on surrounding wetlands, including by building in the 50-foot no activity zone around wetlands.

Brett Meredith, the owner of the property, said that the solar project would allow him to continue growing cranberries, as he has for years.

“Don’t lose track that it’s a farm first,” Meredith said. “It’s a dual-use project.” 

Sarah Stearns of Beals and Thomas, representing the project, said that the area to be impacted is currently farmed, and the plans include very little tree removal or other changes to the environment.

Commission member Kwame Bartie asked whether the solar array could cause polluted run-off. Meredith said he asked the UMass Cranberry Station, whose experts assured him the panels wouldn’t cause pollution or food safety issues. 

Denise Schulz, another commission member, said that the town’s bylaws are intended to protect wetland resources more stringently than the Wetland Protection Act, while also protecting the aesthetic value of the town.

The town’s bylaws also require an alternatives analysis for projects near wetlands that examines other locations for the proposed project, which Pichette said Meredith did not do.

Additionally, the proposal seemed to plan to collect more solar energy than is allowed by the state’s SMART solar energy incentive program, which the project was intended to take part in. 

Schulz noted that the science about solar panels over cranberry bogs was still somewhat up in the air. Iain Ward of Solar Agricultural Services, Inc., a consultant for the project, said that there is significant data to show that it is possible to successfully grow cranberries under solar panels. 

Meredith said that he is confident that he can successfully farm under the solar panels, although those areas might have lower yields.

“It’s basically just supplementing your income,” Meredith said. “You’re not just relying on farming to get by — you get a little bit from the solar to make up for the bad years, and it takes the pressure off of trying to rely on just farming.”

He said that in this area, it’s very difficult to get by just by farming. 

Stearns said that the work in the riverfront area is very limited and mostly confined to an existing bog, and asked for more time to address the commission’s concerns.

The commission unanimously voted to deny the project and met briefly on Sept. 22 to clarify that the commission’s denial was based on the town and the state’s laws protecting wetlands.