Planning Board vetoes 0 Route 25 solar project

Apr 24, 2023

At a special meeting held on Thursday, April 20, the Planning Board voted to deny a permit to a proposed solar farm at 0 Route 25 near Charge Pond Road, a win for environmental advocates who feared that the project posed a threat to land, water and air quality. 

The solar farm was proposed by Wareham PV 1 LLC, a division of Longroad Energy.

During the meeting, Planning Board members repeated the same criticisms that they, and outside experts, had expressed throughout months of hearings about the project.

These concerns included potential groundwater contamination and the potential high cost of decommissioning the solar panels when they can no longer generate electricity.

The Planning Board agreed that approving the project would be too much of a risk for the town, since so much is unknown about the nascent technology.

“It’s all speculation at this point,” said Planning Board member Jane Gleason. 

Gleason said that with so many solar fields being built in Wareham at once, the town will eventually be saddled with hundreds of obsolete panels — without knowing what to do with them. 

Planning Board member Sam Corbitt noted that the project would have been built on the town’s sole-source aquifer. 

“It’s the only source of water that we have,” Corbitt said. “If something happens [to it], the town’s dead.” 

The biggest safety concern was the proposed project’s use of lithium-ion batteries to store solar energy. Such battery storage is required under the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target Program, which provides incentives to solar manufacturers. 

“My sense is that the technology is still in evolution,” said Planning Board member Sherry Quirk, “so it worries me to think about approving a battery, not knowing any of the particulars that seem to bear on safety.” 

In February, Save the Pine Barrens, an advocacy group that has prominently opposed solar projects in Wareham, provided the Planning Board with the testimony of two experts. 

“We applaud the Planning Board’s decision,” said Meg Sheehan, coordinator of the Community Land and Water Coalition, a project of Save the Pine Barrens. “We especially appreciate their consideration of the expert testimony... And how the project would impact drinking water.” 

The two experts testified before the Massachusetts Energy Facility Siting Board in September 2022, speaking about the safety of the proposed Cranberry Point battery storage system in Carver. 

John Hinckley, an air pollution expert and senior management consultant with the All4 environmental consulting firm, testified that overheated batteries can ignite, releasing toxic chemicals such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane and ethane into the atmosphere. 

Milosh T. Puchovsky, a professor at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute Department of Fire Protection Engineering, testified that there is no “typical” battery storage unit because the technology is rapidly evolving. 

He also said that there is a small risk of the batteries overheating, catching on fire and exploding, releasing toxic gasses and contaminating water runoff. 

“In my opinion, robust design and emergency planning and training are necessary,” he said in his testimony.

If the project was approved, Wareham firefighters would have required extensive training to respond to solar battery fires. The Planning Board felt that the project was not worth the trouble of planning for an emergency. 

Longroad Energy could not be immediately reached for comment.