Waltham Neighbors For Safe Solar
Update: The legal battle is now underway. The dispute is over the recently approved environment-endangering solar farm that threatens the Cambridge drinking water reservoir and requires the cutting of 5+ acres of mature forest (over 1040 mature trees) In addition, the solar farm will abut residential neighborhoods in Waltham without the ability to properly protect the neighbors from serious health and safety hazards due to the very challenging characteristics of this parcel of land with limited access that make it unsuitable to safely host a large scale solar farm. See further down on this webpage for more information about the environmental and public health and safety hazards that will result if this solar farm is built on this parcel of land.
Three of four appeals of Lexington’s decision to allow this solar farm were filed in the MA Superior Court in mid June. All three focused on stopping this unsafe and unsustainable solar farm. The three allied plaintiffs are The City of Cambridge, The City of Waltham, and a group of nearby Waltham residents plus one Cambridge resident (The Citizens) affiliated with Waltham Neighbors for Safe Solar. All three appeals requested a trial by jury.
The fourth appeal, by the developer, was filed in Land Court to overturn some of the conditions the Lexington Planning Board included in their approval.
You can read all four appeal submissions by clicking on the one you want to read (the developer’s submission to the court, Cambridge’s submission, Clitizens’ submission, Waltham’s submission..) The high level summary is that the allied plaintiffs of Cambridge, Waltham, and the Citizens are all suing for some of the same reasons and also some reasons that are unique to each plaintiff. The list of issues cited in the three allied appeals include the following: Click here to read the full update.
We are in GREAT NEED of Contributions to Pay Legal Expenses:
Waltham Neighbors for Safe Solar includes a group of concerned citizens named as plaintiffs who are suing to stop this solar farm. The appeals process is now underway and those plaintiffs are in great need of donations to help pay the mounting legal fees. The expectation is that the citizens who are suing will need to build a substantial war chest at this time to fund work encompassing many legal filings and arguments in court, including the need to hire some expert witnesses. The legal battle is anticipated to conclude in approximately two years with a jury trial in the MA Superior Court. The timing and agenda for this appeal has been set by the court and requires the citizens’ attorney to work without pausing. So, if you can, please send a check as soon as possible to allow the citizen plaintiffs to keep up with the attorney’s bills. 100% of your contribution will go directly to pay their legal bills.
Please send a check made out to Hill Law with “Lexington Solar” in the memo line. Also, include your email and/or cellphone number so they can let you know that they received your check. Mail your check to the volunteer who is coordinating payments for this lawsuit:
9 Wimbledon Circle
Waltham, MA 02451
Also, if you are a CPA who can offer us 30 minutes of your time via a phone call, we have a few tax questions that we need answers for right away. If so please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and put “CPA consultation” in the subject line.
FAQ: Why are you not a non-profit charitable corporation? Waltham Neighbors for Safe Solar looked into setting up a nonprofit with a Venmo account to collect money to pay the legal fees for the citizens’ lawsuit. Unfortunately, the expert attorneys we talked to said very clearly that we do not qualify as a nonprofit (501c-7) or charitable corporation (501c-3). Since neither we nor the citizen plaintiffs are a charitable organization your contributions are NOT tax deductible. All contributions must be checks written directly to Hill Law to pay the legal fees for this particular citizens’ lawsuit.
Clickable table of contents for this webpage
Government Scientists Report that the Toxic Smoke from a Solar Farm Fire Would Be “Lethal” and “Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health” for people living within a 1.25 mile radius
Do you want to understand why large-scale solar farms are prone to starting fires and why a chance of fire is high?
The Solar Farm Power Lines Will Cause Health Problems
More ways you can help (and we sure do need it!)
EMPTY YOUR CACHE OR REFRESH TO SEE OUR WEBPAGE UPDATES
Waltham Residents React to Fire Chief’s Description of What Would Happen in the Event of Fire at Lexington Solar Farm
About Waltham Neighbors for Safe Solar
What You Can Do To Help
Our Predicament and Potential Ways to Fix It
Wildlife and Environmental Conservation
OUR REPORTS and other useful material from Waltham Neighbors for Safe Solar
Documents from other sources
Waltham Neighbors for Safe Solar volunteers have done extensive research of the available solar industry reports including government reports and professional peer reviewed journal publications. These credible sources contain verified facts and scientific analyses that tell us that this solar farm should not be built if fire retardant coating is banned or if a fire is not allowed (or not quickly able) to be put out. This location is unique (and not suitable for solar farms) because both fire retardant coating and firefighting foam have been banned. These critical fire prevention and firefighting technologies have been banned from this site to avoid contamination of the Cambridge public water supply. The chance of a fire starting at a solar farm of this size is already high (as determined by a solar industry fact-based report endorsed and heavily referenced by the US Department of Energy), but without these fire safety measures, it is likely that a fire will quickly spread, well before firefighters arrive, and will not be put out (at least not effectively or quickly, and possibly not at all.)
The official fire response as stated by the Waltham Fire Chief and confirmed by the Lexington Planning Board (prior to 4/28/23) is that a fire at this solar farm will have to be allowed to grow and spread and burn itself out while firefighters attempt to wet down the adjacent residential properties and forest to stop it from spreading. We have been told by many local firefighters and confirmed that the widely adopted belief from firefighting experts is that water cannot safely or effectively put out a solar farm fire. So if even a small fire starts at this location, it will grow into a very large solar fire (4.5 football field sized area filled with solar modules and electronics) that will release toxic smoke until it has finished burning itself out. See links below for more information from solar farm scientists, engineers, and the US Department of Energy experts about how dangerous solar farm fire smoke is to people living as far away as 1.25 miles (regardless of whether the fire can be put out or not).
The Lexington Fire Chief posted a memo to the Lexington Planning Board website (4/28/23) that says they will put out the fire. He later clarified that he meant they will use only water to put out the fire. No other information or evidence to back that controversial claim was provided. Needless to say, we have already begun researching this claim and will continue to post credible information we find. To learn about what we have found to date (go to the bottom of the document that opens when you click here.)
Note that even if a fire can be put out, our 4/24/23 solar smoke (toxins) report still applies because all of the credible science and evidence (facts) presented in that report resulted from assuming a fire would be promptly extinguished. See Section 2 of our Toxin report (click below) for what needs to be done with this solar farm installation to keep people safe when a fire can be put out. People still need to be evacuated, power lines need to be kept away from homes, and more.
Send an email to email@example.com please send a check as soon as possible to allow the citizen plaintiffs to keep up with the attorney’s bills.
Also, include your email and/or cellphone number and you will get a confirmation once your contribution is received. Mail your check to the volunteer who is coordinating payments for this lawsuit:
9 Wimbledon Circle
Waltham, MA 02351
*Contributions are NOT tax deductible because there is no way we or any other group raising funds to pay for this lawsuit can qualify as a non-profit charitable organization.
INSTRUCTIONS: Check this website frequently for updates since we continue to obtain information and news. It’s recommended to read content first because some active links you may follow might disconnect you from this site. You may need to clear your cache to see the update. On windows Press Ctrl+F5. On Mac press Option+⌘ Command+E to empty your cache, and then ⌘ Command+R to refresh the page.
NEWS UPDATE from Waltham Neighbors for Safe Solar 02/01/23
(pdf printable version is here)
Over 85 Waltham residents attended the 1/17/23 Waltham City Council meeting and got a chance to hear directly from Waltham’s Fire Chief, Randy Mullen about the unique and serious problem this solar farm creates in the event of a fire because of its close proximity to the Cambridge drinking water reservoir. Since the nearby drinking water reservoir must not be contaminated with toxins, there will be a non-negotiable ban on the use of chemicals on the land slated for the 9.3 acre solar power plant because any chemicals would end up in Cambridge’s drinking water. The ban on chemicals, however, means that any fire that starts cannot be put out since water is not capable of putting out a solar fire. Only firefighting foam can do that, but the foam contains poisonous chemicals that would leach into the drinking water reservoir.
If Lexington approves the plan as it has indicated it will (with some changes to improve access for firefighting vehicles), a large-scale solar farm will be built without an automatic early fire suppression system and without allowing firefighting foam because both contain toxic chemicals. Mullen said that Waltham already knows from first hand experience that solar fires are hard enough to control with the foam, but without it, the primary fire response is to “let them burn”. To put that in perspective, that’s an enormous 9.3 acre solar farm left to burn itself out. Mullen went on to say that firefighters would work during that time to defend the neighboring homes from catching fire by spraying only water on the area surrounding the fire.
Waltham Fire Chief Randy Mullen Actual large-scale solar fire in progress
CLICK HERE TO READ THE COMPLETE ARTICLE, WHICH INCLUDES A MAP SHOWING THE TOXIC SMOKE DANGER ZONE (1.25 MILES FROM THE SOLAR FARM) THAT THE FIRE CHIEF WARNS ABOUT.
Note to reader (05/15/23)
Lexington is now saying they can put out the fire with water. This statement does not reference any specifics about size of fire or accessibility. The vague statement is not something that we can quickly find information about because the long time understanding by firefighting experts is that water cannot put out large electrical fires, and that solar fires are particularly hard to put out and require firefighting foam. Before believing Lexigtnon’s claim, we would need to find credible evidence that this claim is not “best case” or based only upon small rooftop fires or fires that are addressed before they spread past one solar panel. We will post what we find as soon as we find it.
Even if a fire can be put out, our 4/24/23 solar smoke (toxins) report still applies because all of the credible science and evidence presented in that report was done assuming a fire would be promptly put out. See section 2 of that report for what needs to be done to keep people safe when a fire can be put out.
Click here for the report summary of our solar farm toxic smoke report. Includes what we currently know about the hazards of fighting solar fires with water (from solar scientists, engineers, solar fire fighting experts, and government reports.)
Waltham Neighbors for Safe Solar is a grassroots organization that currently provides a voice to over 1000 people living in Massachusetts, with that number growing every day as more people find out about the recent approval of this unsafe substandard solar farm. Our community consists mostly of residents in the town/cities of Waltham, Lexington, Lincoln, and Cambridge who are concerned about the unsafe large-scale solar power plant that is planned to be built adjacent to the Cambridge drinking water reservoir and only 100 feet from our homes in an adjacent forest and wildlife habitat.
It all started when a small group of Waltham neighbors received a notice of the proposed large-scale solar power plant and an upcoming Lexington Planning Board meeting scheduled for 12/7/22. This meeting was to allow the nearby members of the public to learn about and comment on the large-scale solar plant slated to be built in a Lexington forest that abuts hundreds of homes in three Waltham neighborhoods.
After reading the proposed plans for the solar power plant, neighbors knew they needed to alert others living nearby as well as band together to make their voices heard. The grassroots organization called Waltham Neighbors for Safe Solar (WNFSS) was formally created. Around that same time, an early petition was created by one of the neighbors who is now on the WNFSS core working committee. Over 500 people signed our petition, which was ignored by the Lexington Planning Board in the end since they approved the project without any of the safety demands we listed in our petition.
Since then, the neighbors have learned that the cutting of the over 1040 mature trees adjacent to the Cambridge drinking water reservoir will cause a pollution hazard to that public water supply.
Everything we know to date is reflected on this web site and we continue to work to find, verify, and post relevant, credible (verifiably factual) information. We also send out email updates to our email list when an action is needed or a significant update is available. Send an email to WalthamNeighborsForSafeSolar@gmail.com to sign up. We will not share your email with anyone and will only use it to provide important new information that will help as we journey together to fight this unsafe project. We also continue to add interested volunteers to our working group.
A private developer owns densely forested property in the town of Lexington that is adjacent to three neighborhoods in Waltham off Trapelo Road on the Lincoln-Lexington line. The developer is slated to build a large-scale ground mounted solar power plant that
● Requires cutting down 1040 mature trees (5.3 acres of dense forest) and eliminating a significant wildlife habitat and risking the adjacent Cambridge public water supply reservoir. This goes against the recommendations of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources for new solar systems, large and small. (See next section for more about the threat to the environment.)
It is, in general, possible for solar power plants to be made safe with a low threat to public health and safety. The current plan for this plant, however, falls far short of that. And with the unusually difficult access to the site and unique contradicting restrictions necessary to protect nearby Waltham, Lexington and Lincoln residents as well as Cambridge residents (the Cambridge drinking water reservoir), this plant is a catastrophic disaster waiting to happen. We need citizens to demand that the facts of this situation are taken into account and decisions are made to proactively protect public health and safety, as the MA law allows, and as Federal Law supports.
The Lexington Planning Board, unfortunately, has responded the same way to numerous requests from the public sent from December, 2022 through May 17, 2023 that asked them to levy requirements to make the plan safe, including the dismissal of a requirement to have sufficient hydrant system installed at the site. Lexington told us that our other demands, such as the 200 foot EMF-protection and fire protection setback, not routing the high voltage power lines in front of homes, installing automatic fire detection/alarm systems, etc., would be viewed by the state as unreasonable. Specifically, they have explained that they are required by law (the “Dover Amendment”) to review the project for compliance with Lexington’s Zoning Bylaw and the Board’s Regulations and if the plan meets those, they must approve it. They also added that solar arrays are afforded protection under Massachusetts General Laws (“Dover Amendment”) as a protected use to prevent them from being unreasonably regulated. 9th Paragraph of MGL Chapter 40A Section 3: “No zoning ordinance or by-law shall prohibit or unreasonably regulate the installation of solar energy systems or the building of structures that facilitate the collection of solar energy, except where necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare.” All of the responses neighbors are getting from Lexington say that the neighbor requests “would likely not be considered reasonable by the state.”
Since we believe (and provided verifiable fact-based backing) that our demands are absolutely necessary to protect public health and safety, we are frustrated that the response from Lexigton continued to be that the state would view them as unreasonable. The Town of Lexington acts like they do not have any skin in this game, and currently, since no Lexington residents are aware of the smoke toxins that will also endanger them, they don’t. Based on our communications with the Town as well as their comments at all three of the zoom meetings on this topic, Lexington appears to be quoting the Massachusetts ”Dover Amendment” to justify avoidance of making any safety requirements unless they are “reasonable sounding to the developer”. The developer, nonetheless, has filed to appeal several of the Lexington Planning Board’s restrictions (e.g., the 100 foot setback.) Click here to read what the developer submitted to the court.
It is clear to us from reading the law (the “Dover Amendment”) and the last paragraph (page 5) of the judge’s ruling on Tracer Lane II vs Waltham, that the State of Massachusetts is assigning a duty to local zoning/planning boards, and therefore, to the Lexington Planning Board, to levy restrictions (including size and placement, or outright denial) that are necessary to protect public health, safety and welfare. We implored the Lexington Planning Board to do their duty to address all of our health, safety and welfare concerns, and we provided them with three science-based and evidence-backed factual reports that correctly characterized the hazards and the high likelihood of them coming to fruition (fire, toxic smoke, power line magnetic radiation). They chose to ignore these solar industry facts and think of them, instead, as “worst case” outcomes that are highly unlikely. Fire, toxic smoke, and magnetic field radiation illness all fall well within their duty to protect the general public health, safety and welfare from the developer and land owner’s interest to keep costs down and profits up. It is unfortunate that the 5/17/23 decision with “conditions” did nothing to protect public health, safety, and welfare.
We are hopeful that with your help as we move forward, we will be able to remedy this problem and stop this unsafe project.
On May 17, 2023, the Lexington Planning Board approved the Tracer Lane solar installation even though it would pose serious threats to public health, safety and welfare. The project will clear cut over 5 acres of protective watershed forest (~1040 trees) and install a large solar array, causing erosion and polluted runoff that will endanger the adjacent public drinking water supply for the city of Cambridge.
Facilities of this size carry a 10% baseline risk of fire, according to a widely referenced US Dept. of Energy document. Yet the site lacks adequate hydrants and access for fire trucks, and fire-fighting chemicals cannot be used adjacent to a drinking water supply. This creates an unacceptable risk of serious fire and exposure to toxic smoke (and toxic dust/soot) for the surrounding community.
The facility also destroys wildlife habitat and endangers wetlands. Massachusetts has over 1 million acres of rooftops, parking lots, highway strips and already developed land where solar should be expedited.
The 1 megawatt ground-based solar array (more than 3000 solar panels) will occupy 5.3 acres of steeply-sloping forest land a mere 400 feet from the Cambridge Reservoir, the primary drinking water supply for approximately 118,000 residents of Cambridge. The installation will destroy one of the Reservoir’s few remaining tracts of protective forest, fragment the beautiful Hobbs Brook Reservation, and put imperiled wildlife and wetlands at risk.
The project also creates an intolerable fire hazard. According to widely-cited guidelines on the US Department of Energy website, a solar field of this size has a 10% chance of having a fire over the first 35 years of operation. With normal firefighting capacity, this would potentially be manageable. But because this particular site has inadequate access for fire trucks, insufficient water to fight a fire, and the adjacent reservoir precludes the use of fire-fighting and fire-prevention chemicals, a fire would be difficult or impossible to extinguish, putting the community at risk of exposure to the toxic smoke of an electrical fire allowed to “burn in place”, and increasing a variety of risks to firefighters. Moreover, the chemicals in the toxic smoke will settle as dust/soot and immediately end up in the Cambridge reservoir and on the adjacent conservation land.
Finally, this decision creates a dangerous precedent that makes it harder for town boards to protect imperiled forests, wetlands, water supplies and neighborhoods going forward. According to Mass Audubon, Massachusetts natural lands are disappearing at a rapid rate, and ground-based solar was responsible for up to 25% of the loss. Therefore, Mass Audubon and other environmental groups urge that solar not be sited on forests, farmland or natural open spaces but rather on pre-existing development — namely rooftops, parking canopies, highway borders and degraded lands - of which over 1 million acres are available in Massachusetts.
As the climate emergency closes in on our communities, we must not only transition quickly to renewable energy, we must also protect the vulnerable systems – both natural and social - that are essential for climate resilience, human health and community welfare.
Clearing 1040 mature trees is unthinkable for most of us. Still, it is unclear if the MA state law prohibiting most types of restrictions for new solar power fields will support restrictions for wildlife and environmental protection. In 2009, the MA Department of Energy Resources (MA DOER) published Solar Regulation Guidelines that do not seem to allow restrictions for the protection of wildlife and/or the environment.
This is the forest that will be cut for the solar farm. (The photo on the right shows where the solar farm was to be located in the original plans. Now, the solar farm spans most of what is shown here, plus another section to the northeast.)
In 2014, however, the MA DOER published the guidelines that make recommendations for the type of land to use and not to use for solar farms. Specifically, this plan goes directly against the guidelines noted on Mass.gov regarding model solar zoning for large-scale solar energy farms. The document states:
“The Massachusetts DOER strongly discourages locations that result in significant loss of land and natural resources, including farm and forest land, and encourages rooftop sitting, as well as locations in industrial and commercial districts, or on vacant, disturbed land. Significant tree cutting is problematic because of the important water management, cooling, and climate benefits trees provide” (source document - see page 5). Moreover, the steep north-facing gradient of the land for this proposed large-scale Lexington Solar Farm also goes against the DOER recommendations to place ground-mounted solar panels on flat land.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also recommends building solar fields in areas that do not require removing trees and animal habitats.
There are endless sides of highways, retired dumps/landfills and other land that has already been spoiled for wildlife, parking lots and parking garage rooftops that will not displace thousands of animals, require the cutting of over 1040 mature trees, destroy a public water supply, or pose a health hazard to the public. Lush, forested areas in residential locations need to be our last resort, not our first. For more click here .
SOLAR FARM TOXIC SMOKE REPORT
SOLAR FIRES REPORT
MAGNETIC FIELD RADIATION HEALTH HAZARD REPORT (Specific to this solar farm’s power line)
02/01/23 NEWS ARTICLE with the Official fire response as told by Chief Mullen, and reactions of residents. (pdf you can print)
Wildlife and Environmental Protection Concerns
Solar farms are often set back away from residences by hundreds of feet
Massachusetts Solar Setback Images
Pictures of the site
How Solar Farms Work
Packet that we gave to the Waltham City Councilors at their meeting on 01/17/22
The packet contains most of what we have created and posted on this webpage such as many of this section’s (Section 7) files below. These documents basically contain the most pertinent information on our website on 1/17/23.
We frequently update the files we create and post on this site (the list and links are always here in this section in addition to being intertwined in the above sections).
NOTE that we will not update this report or slides.
Instead, we are working on four new reports, one for each topic: Toxins (both leached and in solar fire smoke), Fire Hazards (everything else other than the smoke), Electromagnetic Radiation from the Power Transmission Lines and the Illnesses They Cause, Need for an Electromagnetic Radiation Safety Setback of the Solar Farm.
We recommend checking to see if the part of this 1/17/23 report you may want to use has been significantly updated in a separate document that will be listed at the top of this section (Section 7) once each is completed.
The order of the items below is most recent news first, oldest nes last
NEWLY ADDED on 5/17/23:
Waltham City Council Resolution Regarding this Proposed Solar Plant
This resolution is not the one George Darcy proposed because there was a mixup in that Councilor’s Randy LeBlanc and Pat O’Brien also proposed a similar resolution and since they happened to be first on the agenda, George was forced to withdraw his. The Council rules do not allow two resolutions on the same topic.
On 12/12/22 TOM STANLEY sent a Letter to Lexington Planning Board. Tom Stanley is our elected state Representative for the 9th district of Massachusetts which includes Waltham. http://tomstanley.org/2022/12/16/rep-stanley-voices-concerns-about-proposed-
Local Televised News
We are beginning to engage the media and we encourage you to reach out as well. Please also direct them to this page and invite them to send us an email.
Channel 10 Boston 12/7/22
 There is not a single Lexington resident within a half mile of the proposed solar power plant, only Waltham residents. However, solar industry science-based and evidence-backed published study on the solar fire smoke toxins tells us that Lexington residents will be endangered by the toxic smoke, but none of them know about this hazard since Lexington will not acknowledge this fact. For more information about the solar fire smoke hazard, see our toxins report in the report section below.