Senate Bill 1319/House Bill 2082 is before the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government
About the Bill:
This is about the loss of local municipal control for siting large scale solar that we are experiencing in Massachusetts, threatening our forests, water and farms.
The Bill simply strikes outdated language from the State’s Zoning Act. It amends Section 3 of Chapter 40A of the General Laws by striking the following language: “No zoning ordinance or bylaw shall prohibit or unreasonably regulate the installation of solar energy systems or the building of structures that facilitate the collection of solar energy, except where necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare.” This sentence was added to the law in 1985 when there were no large ground mounted solar projects like we have today. The zoning protections provided for solar under this 1985 statute were for small, on site residential systems, not today’s industrial scale projects.
This bill ensures that municipalities can pass and enforce reasonable regulations for solar just as they are allowed to do for any other development. This bill does not encourage or discourage solar development. It protects citizens and municipalities who are often losing court cases while trying to uphold their zoning bylaws. The current outdated Zoning Act provisions on solar are used by solar developers to bypass local bylaws to put solar anywhere with few controls. This bill protects the longstanding tradition and value of local land use control in Massachusetts. The Bill will help protect tens of thousands of acres of forests, wetlands and farmlands from large solar projects deemed locally as inappropriate.
Background: Over 5,000 acres of forest and farmland have been lost to date for large ground mounted solar installations. Growing Solar, Protecting Nature A new report from Mass Audubon and Harvard Forest addresses longstanding public concerns about the impact of large ground mounted solar on forests, farmland and open space. Deforestation for solar projects undermines efforts to address climate change. The study concludes that we can build solar and preserve our natural and working lands.
This is about the loss of local control for siting large scale solar that we are experiencing in Massachusetts, threatening our forests, water and farms.
The State House legislative process for the Bill
- The bill was assigned to the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government. The Joint Committee held the required hearing on Nov. 14, 2023. The hearing was broadcast on https://malegislature.gov/Events The Joint Committee can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Include the Bill Numbers: S.1319/H.2082
- Community Land & Water Coalition and other groups and individuals testified at the Nov. 14, 2023 hearing. CLWC delivered a petition with signatures in support of the Bill to the Joint Committee on Nov. 21, 2023. Many groups and individuals also submitted written comments to the Committee. The next step we are asking for is that the Joint Committee give the Bill a favorable recommendation and ask that it be put to a vote before the Legislature before the end of the 2023-2024 Legislative Session.
- Please help us get other legislators to co-sponsor this Bill. You can use this on-line letter to ask your state representative and senator to co-sponsor this bill
Legislators Sponsoring the Bill:
Paul McMurtry (11th Norfolk), Jacob R. Oliveira (Hampden, Hampshire and Worcester), Michael P. Kushmerek (3rd Worcester) and Mathew J. Muratore (1st Plymouth)
In 2022, towns and groups filed an amicus (friend of the court brief) with the Supreme Judicial Court in the solar case of Tracer Lane II Realty. Tracer Lane is a solar developer sued the City of Wareham to force it to issue a building permit for a large ground mounted solar project in a residential neighborhood. The groups supported the City’s arguments that municipalities have the right to regulate large solar under their zoning bylaws. The Amicus brief urged the court to uphold the home rule and zoning powers of municipalities. The Brief shows that the legislative history of the Dover Amendment for solar establishes that the Massachusetts Legislature’s intend was to protect only on-site residential solar units, not large scale solar like we have today. The Court decision in June 2022 did not even consider what the Legislature intended in 1985, nor how the Dover amendment for solar is causing a problem today.
In June 2023, the City of Cambridge sued the Tracer Lane solar developer because the project will raze 1,000 trees and threaten drinking water.
Today, we have a chance to update the outdated law.
A related bill is also pending at the State House
State House, Boston: On June 20 and 21, 2023 advocates for appropriate solar siting came together to testify to the legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications and Utilities Committee on House bill H.3230 and Senate bill S.2164, “An Act Allowing Municipalities to Reasonably Regulate Solar. ” Read the testimony submitted by CLWC/Save the Pine Barrens, below. Listen to the House testimony here and the Senate testimony here.
Groups supporting the bill include: Save the Pine Barrens/Community Land & Water Coalition, RESTORE The North Woods, Save Massachusetts Forests, Smart Solar Shutesbury, and Trees for the Public Good