PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The state hopes to see more renewable energy from solar so it's incentivizing development.
However, the way the programs are currently established, solar often comes at the expense of cutting trees.
"We have perverse incentives for solar. It is cheaper for a developer to come in and cut down a whole bunch of trees to do something for the environment," state Rep. Farley-Bouvier said.
The Pittsfield Democrat would like to see a shift in the way the projects are located. She said there are acres of rooftops available without solar but yet large scale projects go into wooded areas. Even in her neighborhood, there is a large building without solar panels and yet developers constantly look at another wooded area nearby.
"We need to be able to change the incentive programs," Farley-Bouvier said.
A representative from the Appalachian Mountain Club told Farley-Bouvier that forested lands are being taken down for solar and a resident fighting the project off Barker Road voiced the same concerns.
It is one of the many environmental issues the state has its hands in. At a forum Monday put on by the Environmental League of Massachusetts, Farley-Bouvier and state Sen. Adam Hinds discussed environmental issues facing the state, and the Berkshires.
Farley-Bouvier highlighted additional funds in the budget to support the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Conservation and Recreation as one area of work. She also highlighted three bills the lawmakers will be debating in the coming months.
One bill sets a roadmap to be carbon neutral by 2050, another calls for environmental justice to ensure the communities are given a decision as to where big projects are located, and the last is a carbon pricing bill.
Hinds, meanwhile, discussed efforts being made in transportation, particularly three different rail projects being piloted or studied: east-west rail in the northern part of the county and in the southern part as well as the Berkshire Flyer passenger rail from New York City.
"We have major commitments and interests getting people off of the roads and using trains," Hinds said.
The senator also highlighted efforts to create an office for outdoor recreation that would market and oversee nature and recreation, one of the growing industries in the state. The state would also be looking to protect the natural environment for recreation, he said, and build the infrastructure so people can enjoy it.
The Pittsfield Democrat is also looking forward to future energy issues such as storage.
"There are some headaches coming down the road if we don't act legislatively for storage," Hinds said.
The forum wasn't just for the public to hear what the lawmakers are doing, but for the public to inform the lawmakers about issues. Farley-Bouvier admitted that environmental issues aren't her specialty so she leans on experts in the field to help her learn the issues.
One such is a bill floating in the Legislature now. Berkshire Photovoltaic Services owner Christopher Kilfoyle warned that the bill is loaded with language that will encourage large solar projects while leaving out small-scale projects. He said the measure will incentivize out-of-town developments and give them "carte blanche" over projects while small property owners are left out.
Kilfoyle also urged the crowd to call U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and push for an extension on the solar tax credits.
Meanwhile, Rinaldo Del Gallo, who has headed the effort to ban plastic bags and styrene food containers in Pittsfield, asked if there was any movement to do so on the state level.
Farley-Bouvier said there has been. She compared the banning effort to tobacco --- town after town raised the age to purchase tobacco to 21 and eventually the convenience stores that were opposing it, started urging for it so there is a common set a rules from the community to community. She said that is what will happen with single-use plastic bags should more towns continue to pass bans.
Another man voiced concern that the utility companies are resisting doing energy audits for residents that can help identify ways for a homeowner to reduce costs. Hinds said he has a number of frustrations with utility companies.
Others voiced concern that the state's process for passing large energy bills is taking too long and might not be passed during the session.
"It is clearly time to run faster, further, with confronting climate change," Hinds responded, calling for a volume of people to speak up about environmental issues to drive home that urgency because setting deadlines hasn't worked.
Another resident discussed the building of schools saying so many new schools are being built but often renewable energy is not included in the design. Dalton resident Cheryl Rose said the plan for Wahconah Regional High School never gave renewable energy much consideration.
Farley-Bouvier said every new high school should have solar on it. But, she said the incentive for schools to include it isn't strong enough so that needs to be changed.
"We don't do a good enough job incentivizing renewable energy," she said.
Meanwhile, another homeowner voiced concern for legislative efforts to become carbon neutral. She wondered what requirements will be made on residents to be more energy efficient.
Farley-Bouvier said the focus will be on "the big energy users" and not on residential homeowners. For now, the state will continue to make programs available for homeowners to get assistance in making energy efficient modifications to their homes.
Hinds, meanwhile, said much of the work will be leaning on the electric suppliers to get more energy from renewable sources, so many homeowners might not notice a thing during these processes.
Resident Dave Pope, however, was concerned that the state's carbon neutral goal for 2050 is going to be too late. Farley-Bouvier said the plan is aggressive toward reaching those goals but it is also practical and carbon neutral wouldn't be likely before that year.
"We have to have a framework that is aggressive but it has to be grounded in reality," she said.
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