Editor's note: This guest opinion does not appear in the print edition of The Westerly Sun.
I am writing in response to recent letters to the editor contributed by Hopkinton Town Councilor Barbara Capalbo and Hopkinton resident Mr. Jeffrey Gilman which are both regrettably both full of false and misleading information.
An 'F' in 'simple math'
In her letter, the factually, ethically and legally challenged Councilor Capalbo – who has received far more detailed information on all of the commercial solar proposals in Hopkinton than any citizen -
states that “Six-hundred acres of solar arrays would give us 300 megawatts of electricity at $1.5 million a year plus the greater assessed underlying property tax.”
If this sounds too good to be true, it is. This statement is totally false.
Based upon Capalbo’s “simple math,” it would require only 2 acres of land to produce 1 megawatt (MW) of electricity, using the output rating of the alternating current (AC rating) - after the electricity passes through the electrical inverters, rather than the direct current (DC) rating. This is important because the Tangible Property Tax on alternative energy installation is calculated based upon the AC rating, which is typically only about 80% (or less) of the DC rating.
The typical rule of thumb in the industry is that each MW of production, on a DC basis, requires approximately 5 acres of cleared land (obviously more for the total acreage and for each MW of AC, rather than DC output) – not 2 acres of total acreage, as Capalbo arbitrarily claims.
Here below are the actual figures for the seven largest, and presumably most efficient, proposals to install industrial solar energy power plants in seven different residential districts in Hopkinton, according to information obtained from the town planner and various meeting minutes:
Acreage per MW (AC)
Alton Bradford Rd
310 Main Street (Maxson Hill)
Woodville Alton Rd
Skunk Hill / Lisa Lane
336 Woodville Rd
If Hopkinton residents were foolish enough to pursue Capalbo’s goal of producing 300 MW of production per year; and if the efficiency of these projects was the same as those that have already been proposed; we would need 2,869 acres of land – all over Hopkinton - to realize her “modest” proposal.
This is five (5) times Capalbo’s estimate of the required land, using her “simple math,” based upon nothing.
Based upon a median assessment of $220,900 for a single-family home in Hopkinton, the current mill rate of $20.07 and an annual tax bill of $4433, the implementation of these proposed projects on 1085 acres of residential property would theoretically have reduced taxes by $100.67 for the median household.
That won’t balance the budget or keep anyone in their home. But the cost to the abutters of these seven projects (tens of millions of dollars in lost home equity) - and to all of us in Hopkinton – would have been incalculable.
Even if we followed Capalbo’s program – 300 MW or Bust! – the median property taxpayer’s bill would only be reduced by $266. But we would need to rezone almost 3000 acres of land in Hopkinton from residential to commercial use. Forever.
And for those who are actually interested in knowing what sort of contribution we would be making to goal of replacing fossil fuel production with “green energy”, let’s remember that since solar panels do not produce electricity all of the time, they have a “capacity factor” of only 15% - which means that their actual average annual output will only be 15% of their “nameplate” capacity – i.e. about 17 puny MWper year - after having rezoned 1085 acres from residential to commercial use to support this harebrained project.
Similarly, the actual output of Capalbo’s grand scheme to install a nameplate capacity of 300 MW of solar power, would produce only 45 MW of usable power – after having rezoned almost 3000 acres of residential land (five times her eccentric, self-serving estimate).
Capalbo gets an “F” for her “simple math” and “Needs Improvement” in terms of her ability to pay attention in class. She also needs to learn not to tell fibs or fake her homework.
More false claims
Mr. Jeffrey Gilman, a fiery proponent of “Landowner Rights” to pursue commercial and industrial uses of land on residential property in Hopkinton – where no such rights exist – is off to a rocky start when he invokes the “Silent Majority” that support indiscriminate industrialization in Hopkinton, whose members he professes to know personally.
This is a phrase that has been an ironic punchline ever since it was popularized in a speech by Richard Nixon in November of 1969 to insist that a “silent majority” of Americans actually supported the Vietnam War, notwithstanding the riots in the streets - and we all know how that turned out.
More recently, Joe Shekarchi, the attorney for Southern Sky Renewable Energy, also invoked this phrase during the Brushy Brook hearings in a feeble attempt to blunt the impact of the hundreds of residents who vigorously and publicly opposed the project by signing petitions, writing to the town council and appearing at numerous public hearings.
Apparently, Mr. Shekarchi – who ironically is not only a Democrat but also the RI House Majority Leader – is too young to remember Nixon’s famous speech or is not acquainted with the infamous history of this phrase, which is now synonymous with a desperate attempt to delegitimize the broad expression of a deep popular sentiment.
I honestly don’t know quite what to say about Mr. Gilman’s feverish description of Hopkinton residents quaking in terror over the prospect - God forbid - of houses in a residential community, filled with all of those diabolical children. Suffice it to say that, from my experience, the residents who have expressed this sentiment – the coming Armageddon of houses filled with children! - constitute the true “vocal minority” in Hopkinton.
Gilman suggests that these vast commercial solar installations are “farms” notwithstanding the fact that the RI Supreme Court has ruled that they must be regarded as “manufacturing” facilities because they are actually industrial power plants that manufacture electricity. Who are we kidding here?
Mr. Gilman also repeats the familiar canard that these solar “farms” should be regarded as a form of “land bank” which only rents, or borrows, rural land for 30 years.
In Hopkinton, all of the developers and some members of the town council have tried to sell the idea, which Mr. Gilman repeats here, that the property would “automatically revert” to rural, residential zoning at the end of the life of the project, but this is not true. As we informed the Town Council last August, the RI Supreme Court has also ruled that the stipulation of any “automatic reversion” to the original zone – i.e. from “commercial special” back to “residential” - is unlawful and unenforceable, no matter what stipulations the Town Council may add to any rezoning approval.
The truth is that once these parcels are rezoned to Commercial zoning, they will remain that way forever, unless the developer voluntarily requests a rezoning to residential status and persuades the Town Council to grant his request.
Since neither the developer, nor any future Town Council, will have any incentive to pursue this path to reduce the value of the property (from commercial to residential) and the amount of property taxes received by the town, it is extremely unlikely that this will ever occur. So much for the “land banks” from the “solar farms” that will one day be meadows full of wildflowers, after many of the abutters all gone or dead.
Lastly, Mr. Gilman also indulges in unfounded attacks against me personally, which only underscores the fact that his argument is weak. Since his “facts” don’t add up, he has no choice but to fantasize about a “vocal minority” and to attack the messenger who delivers the news that he doesn’t want to hear – namely that the vast majority of residents oppose a radical industrialization of Hopkinton on such a massive scale.
The bottom line is that the claims of both Capalbo and Gilman are both fact-free – and merely the latest expression of The Big Lie that the sacrifice of Hopkinton’s cherished rural character through such indiscriminate industrialization would provide any meaningful benefit to the town or to its residents.