When Ann Karnofsky was walking her two collies on Frankland Road on Aug. 30, she was overcome by what she described as “a caravan of construction vehicles” heading to 71 Frankland Road, the site of a planned solar photovoltaic array and energy storage facility.
“I was literally screaming at them like a drunk, crazy woman,” she said in an interview that evening. “I was yelling and stomping my feet. I think they got the idea that I wasn’t pleased.”
Karnofsky had advocated for the town to take the land by eminent domain earlier this year in an attempt to preserve the forest, which is part of the property now owned by Agilitas Energy (recently purchased from Seaboard Solar). Prior to that, Liberty Mutual had owned the land since 1954 and operated a safety research facility next to the forest.
Liberty Mutual, Karnofsky noted, allowed public access to the wooded portion of the property to walkers, bicyclists and horseback riders.
This situation brings into focus two competing arguments in the debate over climate change policy. On one side, some environmentalists push for the preservation of mature trees to absorb carbon dioxide and lessen the heat island effect from development. Others stress the need for solar resources as a means of sustainable energy and a shift from fossil fuel consumption.
“Currently, Agilitas is performing site preparation activities for the Hopkinton project, such as clearing, grading, excavating for storm water improvements and more,” confirmed Agilitas Director of Development Josh Hotvet in an email on Sept. 2. “Construction of the solar array has not commenced yet, but we expect to begin that stage of the process later this year.”
Hotvet did not give the date that the site clearing began.
Hopkinton Principal Planner John Gelcich explained in a Sept. 1 email that the company did not have to specify to the Planning Board when site clearing would begin.
“They are able to do so as they wish since they have completed all the requirements outlined in the decision up to that point,” he said. “They still have other conditions to satisfy, but those were not tied to site clearing/site preparation.”
The Planning Board on Aug. 8 unanimously approved a revised decommissioning bond plan by Agilitas that made the town the beneficiary of the bond. The 25-year bond’s value was changed from about $104,000 to $227,425, which includes a 10 percent contingency fee. The bond’s term is for 25 years. The estimated cost for decommissioning the project is $476,177.45, with an additional 3 percent adjustment for inflation, which is standard practice.
“Our Hopkinton project will be a front-of-the-meter solar and energy storage system that will serve Eversource with a 5.8-megawatt solar array and 3 megawatt to 6 megawatt hours of storage capacity,” Hotvet said. “It will deliver low-cost energy for Eversource customers while enhancing the grid’s reliability and resiliency.
The project is classified as a Community Solar Program, he added. It “will generate Massachusetts Clean Peak Certificates, which is a way that the state qualifies that an energy system creates, stores and releases renewable energy.”
Before the site clearing took place, Karnofsky described the street, located behind Weston Nurseries, as “a very rustic, peaceful road that doesn’t have sidewalks and runs parallel to Route 135.”
“There are several horse farms and farm-style houses that have colonial chimneys, fireplaces and foundations,” she explained, and the land has Indigenous artifacts and a trail system formed during the Colonial era. “Now there has been an unbelievable, horrible noise of huge mechanical saws.”
Karnofsky said she was concerned not only for the century-old trees on the property, which she feared would become wood chips, but also for the wildlife that lives there.
“The red-wing hawks were shrieking and the raptors were screaming,” according to Karnofsky. “When the animals leave, they will become roadkill.”
She blamed the town for not buying the property from Seaboard Solar when it had the opportunity nor attempting to take the land by eminent domain. She also accused several town boards and committees, particularly the Planning Board, of not being more proactive for the environmental stewardship of the property.
Karnofsky had hoped to get approval for Article 45, which she presented on behalf of a group called Save the Forest, at May’s Annual Town Meeting to have the forest behind 71 Frankland Road taken by eminent domain by the town. However, 87 residents voted against the article while only 26 supported it, leaving it well short of the two-thirds vote required for passage.
Karnofsky said that she had hoped to have the required 100 signatures to get the article on the warrant for last month’s Special Town Meeting, but she “ran out of time.”
“I tried my hardest over the past five years to fight this,” Karnofsky said. “But we didn’t win. This forest — 70 acres of contiguous historic forest have been killed. Murdered.”
She added that 12 acres on the property previously were preserved by the Hopkinton Area Land Trust (HALT) as part of the Deer Run trail head.
Hotvet clarified the number of acres involved in the plans by Agilitas, as well as its commitment to conservation of a portion of its property.
“As part of the project, Agilitas Energy will be donating about 45 acres of open space to an organization for the conservation of land and maintaining the trails for public use,” he said. “Agilitas Energy has also donated more than $10,000 to the Hopkinton Area Land Trust for the construction of a parking area which will support access to the trail network on site.
“In addition to the donated acres, the build area for the project is approximately 18.25 acres,” Hotvet added.
In an interview Sept. 1, Planning Board chair Gary Trendel shared that 23 acres of the almost 70-acre property has been approved for clearing.
“This is private property, and they are allowed to clear the land,” he said. “It is also worth noting that the project is by right, which means that it is an allowable use under the zoning code.”
Trendel also confirmed that “45 acres of the site are being preserved.”
“Agilitas has committed to donating the land to the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office,” he said. “They have also committed to maintaining the trail system. It will not be the same, but I would argue that it will still benefit the town.”
Added Trendel: “Commercial projects can be very upsetting to abutters. But there was a comprehensive review process by the Planning Board. For the abutters, this is the most substantially screened project that the Planning Board has ever approved.”
Karnofsky said she will not go to the property again. She instead plans to take her dogs to the new dog park on Fruit Street, on the opposite side of town.
“It makes my heart sink,” she said. “I can’t go back there because they ripped the heart out of the forest.”