January 01, 2020

Solar and Stormwater: Plan Better to Avoid Me

Christine Y. LeBel

I live in Massachusetts, a state with some of the best solar-energy incentives in the country. It shows. I pass at least five large-scale solar farms sprouting photovoltaic panels on trips between Springfield and Boston, not to mention the nearly one hundred projects that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has permitted atop closed landfills and thousands of smaller-scale installations statewide. Recently, I even attended a free concert sponsored by a local solar-development company. However one may feel about renewable energy, though, all is not sun and roses on the ground. In my role as a state environmental-agency lawyer focusing on compliance and enforcement, I have noted a troubling trend regarding larger-scale solar development. In the frenzy to diversify the state’s energy portfolio and take advantage of available monies, some developers seem to be blinded by the glow of solar’s “environmentally friendly” visage and forget that the “development” side of solar development has potentially substantial environmental impacts. In the last several months alone, I have encountered several solar-array construction projects that have run awry of applicable law for failure to adequately plan and manage stormwater runoff during construction, sometimes having catastrophic effects. The companies responsible are facing significant enforcement, if not for federal violations, then for violation of state wetland and resource-area laws and regulations. This article is meant as a cautionary tale and provides some pointers on how to avoid having to explain to regulators and the public what went awry with your client’s stormwater planning during its utility-scale solar construction project.

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