On April 14, the Massachusetts Division of Power Assets (DOER) filed emergency laws governing its SMART (Photo voltaic Massachusetts Renewable Goal) program, the state’s present photo voltaic incentive program. Amongst different adjustments, the brand new guidelines alter the factors for land use and venture siting as Massachusetts continues its development in the direction of discouraging using greenfield websites—particularly ecologically beneficial ones—in favor of properties which can be already impacted by growth.
The laws double the scale of the state’s SMART program from 1,600 MW of recent photo voltaic producing capability to three,200 MW.
By prohibiting the siting of most new SMART program ground-mounted photo voltaic initiatives on land deemed mandatory for the safety of key Massachusetts species and ecosystems, the laws additional steer photo voltaic growth away from greenfields, in the direction of already-impacted websites.
Individually, DOER can also be providing a six-month extension for all initiatives making use of to take part within the SMART program between April 15, 2020 and July 1, 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Land Use Restrictions for Photo voltaic Improvement
So as to be eligible for participation within the SMART program, photo voltaic initiatives should meet sure land use and siting standards. These standards are nuanced, and it is very important fastidiously assess a given location to find out its eligibility for the SMART program, in addition to any concerns associated to native allowing and accessible incentive ranges.
The SMART program already excludes sure areas from photo voltaic growth. For instance, photo voltaic initiatives can’t be sited on specified wetland useful resource areas (i.e., sure seashores, dunes, marshes, as outlined by 310 Mass. Code. Regs. 10.04) or on properties listed on the Massachusetts Register of Historic Locations except licensed by the impacted state and/or native authorities entities (though as we’ve got beforehand reported, a city’s Historic District Fee might not have the final phrase on when photo voltaic allowing is correct). Many photo voltaic initiatives on completely protected open area – land held by a governmental conservation, park, water provide, forest, or agricultural company – below Article 97 of the Massachusetts Structure additionally will not be eligible for participation within the SMART program.
Along with these prior restrictions, below the revised SMART laws, land recognized by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) as mandatory for the safety of key Massachusetts species and ecosystems is also ineligible for many new SMART program photo voltaic growth. The newly restricted areas are primarily based on MassWildlife’s BioMap2 framework, a biodiversity conservation mapping device, in addition to MassWildlife’s Precedence Habitat map database. Each BioMap2 and the Precedence Habitat maps mix historic species information with geospatial information to determine which areas throughout the Commonwealth are important for the safety of Massachusetts species.
Underneath the brand new laws, most new ground-mounted photo voltaic initiatives (excluding sure ground-mounted photo voltaic initiatives on brownfields, landfills, and beforehand developed land) can’t be sited on parcels with 50% or extra of its space designated as one of many following three classifications:
Core Habitat: Important areas for the long-term persistence of MassWildlife listed uncommon, endangered, and threatened species in addition to a variety of exemplary pure communities and intact ecosystems within the Commonwealth, as recognized in MassWildlife’s BioMap2.
Precedence Habitat: The geographic extent of habitat for MassWildlife-listed uncommon, endangered, and threatened species as delineated in MassWildlife’s Precedence Habitat map database.
Important Pure Panorama: Areas recognized in MassWildlife’s BioMap2 as offering habitat for a variety of native species, supporting intact ecological processes, sustaining connectivity amongst habitats, and enhancing ecological residence. Important Pure Panorama embody buffering uplands round coastal, wetland, and aquatic Core Habitats.
The photo voltaic business has expressed considerations that, though the revised laws double the SMART program’s capability, the elevated restrictions on land use might constrain the event of recent photo voltaic initiatives to truly fill that elevated capability.
Discouraging Greenfield Improvement
Underneath the SMART program, the kind of land on which a venture sits additionally performs a task in how a lot compensation a photo voltaic venture proprietor can obtain for solar energy. So as to incentivize growth on already-developed land, the SMART program reduces potential compensation for energy generated from sure photo voltaic initiatives sited on greenfields (i.e., undeveloped land). Particularly, present 50 – 5,000 kW photo voltaic initiatives sited on land that (a) has not been beforehand developed and (b) is zoned for industrial and industrial growth are topic to a compensation discount equivalent to the acreage of impacted land. However, the next forms of initiatives will not be topic to any discount in compensation, primarily based on their location and restricted potential impacts to undeveloped land:
Constructing mounted photo voltaic initiatives.
Agricultural photo voltaic initiatives, outlined as initiatives that “permit the continued use of the land for agriculture” on land outlined by the U.S. Division of Agriculture as “Essential Farmlands” or land enrolled in a Massachusetts agricultural preservation program (though, below MDAR’s present steerage, land with an Agricultural Preservation Restriction is often topic to a capability cap that successfully bars industrial photo voltaic growth).
Floor-mounted photo voltaic initiatives with a capability of 500 kW or much less and ground-mounted photo voltaic initiatives with a capability of 500 – 5,000 kW on non-agricultural land that has already been developed.
Floor-mounted photo voltaic initiatives with a capability of 500 – 5,000 kW on non-agricultural land that’s positioned inside a photo voltaic overlay district.
Floor-mounted photo voltaic initiatives with a capability of 500 – 5,000 kW on non-agricultural land that adjust to native zoning laws that expressly deal with energy technology.
Photo voltaic initiatives sited on brownfields and landfills accredited by the Massachusetts Division of Environmental Safety for photo voltaic growth.
Notably, the brand new laws additionally make clear that present floating and cover photo voltaic initiatives sited on any kind of land will not be topic to a compensation discount. The potential impacts to underlying land from a majority of these initiatives are comparatively minimal: floating photo voltaic initiatives are outlined by the laws as positioned on a physique of water that was or is used for water therapy, agricultural or industrial actions, whereas cover photo voltaic initiatives are outlined as put in on the highest of an present construction equivalent to a pedestrian walkway or parking floor. By clarifying that floating and cover photo voltaic initiatives will not be topic to a compensation discount, the brand new laws additional incentivize photo voltaic initiatives with restricted direct impacts to land.
Underneath the revised laws, new photo voltaic initiatives (present initiatives are largely unaffected) sited on non-agricultural land owned or operated by a municipal or governmental entity won’t be topic to a discount in compensation. Nor will compensation be decreased from new photo voltaic initiatives on privately-owned non-agricultural land the place the municipality both owns or operates the photo voltaic venture, or has acquired rights to the venture’s output. However, new ground-mounted photo voltaic initiatives between 500 – 5,000 kW sited on agricultural land which can be sited inside a photo voltaic overlay district or adjust to native zoning that expressly addresses energy technology, will probably be topic to a compensation discount.
Given the adjustments to the SMART program laws, it’s paramount that landowners and photo voltaic builders assess goal properties to make sure eligibility earlier than embarking on a brand new venture. Builders and landowners additionally might wish to take into account making the most of new flexibilities to extend income, equivalent to using floating and cover installations. As photo voltaic expands in Massachusetts, land use concerns are of accelerating significance.