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.”
Another case of solar gone wrong. Thank you Ann karnofsky for her brave and persistent effort to save the forest. Beware everyone. A forest near you could be the next one on the chopping block.
Almost everything this lady says is untrue. First there is no century old trees anywhere on the property. This was all farm land and at one time was all clear cut. There is no trees that have been cut that are older than 80 years.
The trail system she says was from the colonial period were all made post 1960. So the forest is not historic as she claims. She also says it’s 70 acres being cleared it’s not it is around 25 acres. There is a tribal representative on site during work to make sure and indigenous sites are preserved. Only 2 trails will be removed but relocated after construction. Anybody on the property after 9/11 was technically trespassing according to liberty mutual. There is no “red wing hawk” on site or anywhere else for that matter they are red tail.( somebody apparently so knowledgeable about the environment and this site should know that)
The picture at the beginning of the article was obtained illegally. This site is a NO TRESPASSING area. Without permission anyone coming on the site is breaking the law. Apparently the abutting property owners and local people who are regularly coming onto the site do not understand what private property no trespassing means. We do not come onto your property and look around without permission as it’s breaking the law.
You can not see the site from the road. Almost every argument made by this woman is baseless.
Funny, you don’t deny you leveled a forest to put up ugly solar, as part of a moneygrab for government subsidies. The fact that you’re threatening the photographer with trespassing shows to me the environmental damage you have done is far far greater than we suspect.
We’re going to need local renewable generation and power storage facilities if we’re going to move away from fossil fuels in a meaningful way. And we do not need to repeat the terrible practices of the past by siting all the facilities in poorer neighborhoods, some of it should be next to million dollar homes so the burden is shared by everyone. Lastly, the issue of public use of private woodland is a complicated one. We need to preserve green areas for the public to access and to serve as reservoirs of ecological health, but we need to do it in a fair and equitable way and there is a strong argument that eminent domain is often neither. If we as a community want to preserve green spaces we need to be fundraising and purchasing it to be placed in the public trust or looking for donation of lands for these purposes from private parties.