Calling it an inappropriate use of prime agricultural land, the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society appealed to the Edgartown selectmen this week to reconsider a plan to use five acres at Katama Farm for a solar panel project that is not yet built. Town leaders responded that they intend to stay the course with the project.
In a letter sent to the selectmen this week, agricultural society president Dale McClure urged to the town to find alternative sites for the photovoltaic panels.
“We commend the Edgartown selectmen on your search for renewable energy sources and in particular the recent choice of solar panels. However, we are concerned with the choice of Katama Farm as a site for these panels . . . We urge you to continue to seriously consider other sites for the project with less harmful impact on our limited prime agricultural soils,” Mr. McClure wrote.
“We hope it is not too late to reconsider,” he also wrote. “The self-reliance you are helping us achieve in energy is great but should not also diminish our self-reliance in food production.” The complete text of the letter is published on the Commentary Page in today’s edition.
The solar project involves the towns of Edgartown and Tisbury and the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative, an offshoot of the Cape Light Compact. The plan calls for building a large solar panel array to generate electricity for town needs and reduce the town’s electric bill. A five to six-acre piece of land is needed for the panels. The project will be built by private contractors selected through a public bidding process.
Kitt Johnson, the Edgartown representative to the cooperative, said this week that after searching for three months, the Katama Farm land emerged as the best site for the solar panels.
“My reaction is that everybody wants the world to be the way they would like it . . . I think that life is complicated and you have to balance a lot of things,” Mr. Johnson told the Gazette. He said the search came down to three plots of town-owned land: one at Katama Farm, one off Meetinghouse Way and another off Pennywise Path. “We offered those up and the developers have consistently said the nature of the plot out at Katama is one of best ones around,” Mr. Johnson said.
The town leases most of Katama Farm to the Farm Institute, an educational working farm, but the area where the solar panels are planned is available for some other town purpose. “The farm has gone ahead and used that land from time to time and the town has not been doing anything else with it,” Mr. Johnson said. “That land is for town purposes, and right now the town feels it would be in the best interest of the town to use a portion of that land to set up solar arrays and make a large quanity of solar electricity.”
In his letter Mr. McClure pressed the point. “Taking five to six acres out of production for 20 or more years means thousands of dollars worth of beef or chicken, or lamb or vegetables, per acre every year, will not be available to the farmers and consumers of Martha’s Vineyard. It is comparable to setting up solar panels over five acres of productive scallop beds in Cape Pogue Bay and removing the production of scallops from the area,” he wrote.
Mr. Johnson said the three developers who are expected to bid on the project have had trouble making the other two sites work.
“This will benefit the town in several different ways and that, as always, use of land is a trade-off,” Mr. Johnson said. “My goal is to get the opportunity for the town to do something.”