A Master Plan Public Informational Meeting for a 250-acre solar project alongside I-95 northbound went before the Hopkinton Planning Board Wednesday. The property has been zoned Commercial Special for 30 years. All uses allowed in the commercial zone and more are apparently allowed here.
There is loud opposition to alternative energy projects in Hopkinton. However, it is the opponents of utility-scale solar and wind who made this project possible. During the rewriting of the solar ordinance, they backed shoehorning big solar into Commercial and Manufacturing zones and excluding it from the other 95% of the town. On first thought this might seem to make sense, but it just doesn’t hold water. It is inescapable that solar belongs only where it fits, whatever the zone. It does not belong anywhere by right. There are too many variables. Clearly, our existing Commercial and Manufacturing zones were never designed for this sprawling consumption of land at our interstate exits. These areas that are being lost to solar were long intended for commercial services, jobs, and tax generation.
Twenty-three years ago, when the Mashantuckets were flush with casino money, they purchased this property on Coon Hill for $1,400,000. They apparently never noticed or cared the property hosts a Native American ceremonial stone landscape and the Worden Homestead with its indigenous connections. They apparently didn’t care that a mile of Narragansett Trail and Tomaquag Trail/Coon Road Trail and 3.5 miles of stone walls will disappear when the new owner starts clearing. They apparently never asked the basic question of what the Mashantuckets could do with the property to make money. They sold the property to the developer in 2019 for $750,000, a major loss from what they had paid. Now the developer is set to make millions of dollars because the town solar ordinance celebrated by the alternative energy opposition allows the property to be scraped clean and covered with solar arrays by right. They will likely sell off the stone walls and Native American stone piles. I found 15-year-old newspaper articles of old stone walls bringing in $10-$30 per foot for fashionably patinaed old stones such as here. One stone contract may pay off the property.
The Conservation Commission promotes wind turbines as a better choice to replace dirty fossil fuel power. It is less impactful on our rural landscape than solar and would support farmers and the land trust, keeping Hopkinton country. The opponents of alternative energy won the wind battle too, enacting a total prohibition on wind energy in all zones in 2019. The consequences of this myopic planning are disheartening. The Conservation Commission had shared their list of large farms and prospective open space that could be preserved with wind. This property was on the list. So was Brushy Brook, where opposition to wind and later the defeat of a huge solar project leaves us with the losing proposition of 140 houses and higher taxes. One single wind turbine on Coon Hill, paying the going rate of $60,000 a year to lease, would have preserved this property.
The present plan is to scrape the property clean of its environmental and cultural assets and maximize the solar footprint. Solar can be a good thing, but not when done this way. I am really sorry the town keeps shooting itself in the foot.