My Turn: Power play an existential threat to the region

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By RAY DIDONATO

Published: 05-19-2024 1:53 PM

In the forests and dales of western Massachusetts, an existential threat to the natural resources of the region has quietly built itself up in the guise of statewide clean energy policy. First large-scale solar, and now battery energy storage facilities, loom as what could be the largest existential threat to Pioneer Valley towns since the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir changed the landscape of towns forever in the 1930s.

Driven by the ever-increasing energy demands of Massachusetts, particularly coming from the eastern portion of the state with its dense development and industrial consumption, and coupled with the relatively low price of land in western Massachusetts, solar and battery storage developers are scooping up land and proposing facilities that small towns in the region are unable to support from a natural resource or public safety perspective.

While states like New York have pumped the brakes on battery storage facilities due to safety risks, the Healey administration has taken on the banner of renewable energy, no matter how inappropriately sited, as a divine mission. In the town of Wendell, a battery storage facility is proposed in a core biomap region — read “important wildlife habitat,” ever dwindling in the state — and adjacent to 2,000 acres of mainly wetland sanctuary surrounding Whetstone Brook.

The developer has petitioned the state Department of Public Utilities for an exemption from local zoning, and also as a way to circumvent a denial of the project by the local Conservation Commission. Nowhere in recent memory has the threat to natural resources, species and landscapes coalesced so closely with the loss of local control and home rule as has the Healey administration’s approach to clean energy — an undoubtedly important goal, but not at the expense of natural resources or the ability of towns to govern themselves.

It is time for the people of the region to stand up, say “no more” to the Healey administration, and reclaim our ability to protect the natural resources of our towns through our local bylaws and regulations.

An energy policy that involves cutting down forests, mowing down fields, and crossing wetlands to sate the insatiable thirst for energy within the commonwealth has no place in Massachusetts or progressive energy policy, and would be a death knell for the western Mass. region.

Ray DiDonato lives in Wendell.

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