On Jan. 22 of this year, after publicly acknowledging the reality that the vast majority of Hopkinton residents are opposed to the indiscriminate industrialization of the town through haphazard, and illegal, spot zoning to enable the installation of massive commercial solar energy facilities in residential zones, the Hopkinton Town Council passed an amendment to its solar ordinance that imposes severe new restrictions on this activity.
As the minutes of a prior hearing on Jan. 14, 2019, attest, one of the purposes of these restrictions was to discourage solar developers from targeting Hopkinton:
“Council President Landolfi and Councilor Thompson agreed that the restriction of commercial solar energy on residential property that is rezoned [ to the lesser of 3% of the parcel or three acres,] will let people know that the Town does not want to see large scale solar projects.”
But that didn’t prevent two of the town councilors — President Landolfi and Councilor Barbara Capalbo — from voting in favor of a proposal less than one week later, on Jan. 28, that would approve the 175-acre Brushy Brook solar development in a residential zone bordering the Arcadia Management Area, in exchange for a fat package of “sweeteners” that were negotiated by Councilwoman Capalbo, the terms of which were finalized by Capalbo through improper private communications with the developer outside of the public hearings in the week immediately prior to the vote.
Refusing to accept defeat, an enraged Councilor Capalbo and other political allies of the solar developer, Southern Sky Renewable, then mounted a ferocious lobbying campaign — which included threats by the developer to appeal the matter (improperly) to the state Electric Facilities Siting Board — in a desperate effort to pressure one, or more, of the three disapproving council members who concurred with the unanimous recommendation of the Hopkinton Planning Board to deny this blatant attempt at spot zoning on a massive scale, to “reconsider” their votes. Fortunately, this extraordinary effort to overturn the vote appears to have failed.
So much for sending a signal to the solar sharks that the town does not want to see large-scale solar projects.
Feeding frenzy continues
Over the past two years, according to the Town Planner’s report, the Town of Hopkinton has received no less than 30 proposals to install commercial ground-mounted solar panels in neighborhoods all over town. You can no longer go out for a quart of milk in Hopkinton without passing an industrial solar installation.
Some of these projects are small, but several of them are of stupendous size, including the project on Alton Bradford Road, where 60 acres of trees have now been cleared, even though the developer has not yet obtained his building permit.
Neighbors report that the developer — Southern Sky, the same corporate entity that Councilor Capalbo gushed over during the Brushy Brook hearings — has unloaded huge pieces of equipment at all hours of the night and on some days has commenced work on the site as early as 5:30 a.m. Soon the ground will be bulldozed and sculpted to accommodate tens of thousands of gleaming solar panels and surrounded by a chain link fence on this site abutting the Grills Preserve along the Pawcatuck River.
Members of the Town Council have stated that there were “no objections” to this project when it was approved; but the abutters, who are now distraught, have a different story to tell.
Today, notwithstanding the passage of the solar ordinance amendments, the solar sharks continue to be in a state of high excitement and the feeding frenzy continues. There are still eight pending requests by developers to rezone residential property for commercial industrial use, including Skunk Hill Solar on a 175-acre parcel of land, and another project on a 195-acre parcel on Woodville Road.
As the sharks continue to circle Hopkinton, President Landolfi and Councilor Capalbo have no qualms about throwing a few abutters into the water to feed the frenzy. The Skunk Hill Road project, which is ringed with some of Hopkinton’s most densely populated neighborhoods, has an astounding 63 abutting properties, all but one of them a residence, with many, many more residences in close proximity.
If the project is built, it will generate approximately $100,000 in additional revenue for the town of Hopkinton (Tangible Property Tax of $5,000 per MW x 20MW of AC capacity), equal to 0.4% of Hopkinton’s current $25 million budget. If property taxes were decreased by this amount, this would amount to a $30 benefit for a resident whose home is assessed at $375,000, at the current mill rate.
President Landolfi, who has never voted to deny any commercial solar project, has indicated that he is likely to vote in favor of the request — notwithstanding, yet again, the Planning Board’s recommendation, by unanimous vote, to deny the rezoning request on the basis that it is inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan — because of this tax benefit, which Mr. Landolfi finds irresistible.
As the old saying goes, when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
At the public hearing for the project last Monday, Councilor Capalbo showed no apparent discomfort with the location of the project, instead devoting her intense attention to the question of whether to plant mountain laurel or blueberries 30 years from now when the site is “decommissioned” (if that were ever to occur).
The developer, for his part, repeatedly promised that the abutters “won’t even know that the project is there” — 70,000 solar panels spread over approximately 65 acres — because it would be hidden behind an “invisible” earthen berm that is “eight to twelve feet high — or however high it needs to be.”
To my perception, the abutters were not notably relieved by this news.
The inanity of this entire exercise — and the callous disregard of these hapless victims, bordering on contempt, by councilors Landolfi and Capalbo, and anyone else who condones such casual cruelty — is illustrated by the inability of these elected officials to grasp the stark fact that these massive installations are wreaking havoc in our community, threatening our quality of life and even our home equity.
Consider the plight of any of the abutters to the Skunk Hill Road project, in a lovely neighborhood where the average home value is approximately $375,000. It is not far-fetched to imagine that the market will adjust this value downward by 5 percent, 10 percent, or more, to account for the new view of the “invisible” dirt wall in their backyard — and that when this happens, they may lose $20,000, $40,000, or more of their home equity in the process.
But the good news is that everyone else in town will receive a $30 tax refund.
The writer is a Hopkinton resident and a member of Hopkinton Citizens for Responsible Planning.