Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program
The state’s new SMART program for solar is accepting applications the week of November 26, 2018. For those growers considering a solar project on their farm, there are many options to weigh. CCCGA has accumulated as much information as possible to help guide you in your decision. Much of this information has been gathered from the two workshops hosted by CCCGA in 2018. In addition, we have listed the solar development companies that are sustaining members of CCCGA. We encourage you to talk to more than one developer and to consider these businesses first when conducting your research.
Tips for Growers
- Projects pursuing the dual-use agricultural adder on a cranberry bog need to first know if the bog is an upland or wetland. Your local conservation commission will be the deciding factor and should provide guidance for what documentation they may need.
- The requirements of the dual-use program need to be met, which includes a maximum of a 2MW system, panel height (8-feet for fixed tilt systems or 10-feet for tracked), no more than 50% of the bog can be shaded by the panels, and a plan for how the crop will be grown and harvested. These requirements need to be documented in the Pre-Determination Form which is reviewed by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and the Department of Agricultural Resources.
- There is a waiver process from the above requirements but the waivers are expected to be difficult to obtain and may significantly slow down the approval process.
- Projects on a wetland bog will require filing a Notice of Intent with the conservation commission (see further details below).
- Local wetland or solar by-laws may be encountered.
- Projects that are off the bog and not part of the dual-use agricultural program may need to resolve Chapter 61A conflicts with the town.
- Growers should not be paying for upfront, exploratory costs. Those are costs borne by the solar developer companies. A Letter of Intent would be expected for the developers to begin the exploratory process. There are many steps for the developers to obtain and ultimately obtain an executed Interconnection Service Agreement (ISA) from the utility company. It may take 10 months or more to receive an executed ISA. There are no guarantees that a project will be successful but your selected developer should be able to gauge how viable your project may be. Be prepared to ask a lot of questions and insure that they have a solid game plan for moving your project through the approval process.
Solar Projects on a Bog
For projects proposed on an “upland” bog, applicants would need to provide evidence to the conservation commission that the bog is in fact an upland bog. This could be in the form of topographic maps, historical photographs, past delineation decisions and more. Once this is determined, the project would not be jurisdictional other than concerns from wetland setbacks, local wetland or solar by-laws. In order to achieve the agricultural dual-use adder, growers would need to submit the Pre-Determination Form which is reviewed by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and the Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) and comply with the performance guidelines. The bog would need to stay in agricultural use, produce a crop and crop records sent to MDAR annually.
For projects on a wetland bog and seeking the agricultural adder, applicants need to submit the Pre-Determination Form which is reviewed by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and the Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) and comply with the performance guidelines. The bog would need to stay in agricultural use, produce a crop and yield records sent to MDAR annually. In addition, a Notice of Intent (NOI) would need to be filed with the local conservation commission. It is expected that local commissions will follow the MassDEP guidance and issue an order of conditions that is commensurate with the MassDEP guidance. However, local commissions have the authority to make their decisions independently and there may also be local wetland and zoning by-laws.
For projects that are not going to pursue the dual-use agricultural adder, these projects would need to file a Notice of Intent but are not subject to the MassDEP guidance since the guidance is specific to projects that are intending to continue farming. Even if a local conservation commission approved a NOI for a non-ag use on a wetland bog, it is anticipated that MassDEP would supersede the decision. Thus it’s not advisable to pursue solar projects on wetland bogs unless agricultural activities are going to continue.
Floating Solar Projects
Floating solar arrays are specially designed solar panels, made to go on water bodies. The panels mount on floating devices, similar to a dock. To date, there has not been any installed in Massachusetts although they are becoming more popular in other countries and explored in other US states. There is one test site on a cranberry reservoir in MA but it is not generating solar power. MassDEP has not yet released written guidance but has expressed verbally their direction for any potential installments. If the project will go on a reservoir that is part of an agricultural operation and has been created in upland soils only (the water body has never been part of a former wetland, stream, etc.), they will allow the panels to be constructed and consider the reservoir non-jurisdictional. Growers need to notify the local conservation commission of the project and be prepared to clearly articulate that the reservoir is non-jurisdictional. Projects proposed on water bodies that are or were originally a wetland will need to be reviewed by MassDEP on a case by case basis.
Solar Projects on Adjacent Bog Land
If these projects are on upland soils, they will require less scrutiny than those located on wetlands. Growers still need to be aware of wetland setbacks under the Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act and potential local wetland and zoning by-laws. These projects would not be eligible for the agricultural adder under the SMART Program, unless a crop other than cranberries was being proposed.
Solar presentations featured at the CCCGA meeting June 26, 2018:
Presentation by Kaitlin Kelly, Renewable Energy Program Coordinator, Massachusetts DOER
Presentation by Adam Schumaker, VP Development, NextSun Energy
Solar Development CCCGA Sustaining Members: