NLC News: Proposed Solar Power at Wannacomet Water Company

The Town of Nantucket Energy Office and Administration have been working diligently over the past decade to move forward with municipal solar projects for the island. After beginning to investigate multiple town properties, a Request For Proposals released in 2019 resulted in the current proposal for a roof mounted solar installation at the Surfside Wastewater Treatment Facility as well as an extensive ground array at the Wannacomet Water Company’s 1 Milestone Road property.

The NLC is very supportive of the Town’s efforts to promote energy conservation and renewable energy opportunities on the island. It is clear with additional growth and development the island is experiencing a significant increase in energy demand. We are supportive of the Town’s stated goal to promote renewable energy programs that are, “…economically viable, environmentally responsible and socially respectful for Nantucket”. The NLC is specifically following the permitting process for the Wyer’s Valley (1 Milestone Road) project closely as there are a number of additional important environmental interests that must be properly addressed before the project moves forward. These interests include the protection of our groundwater, minimizing and mitigating impacts to rare and endangered species, and addressing a change in use from the public purpose this land was originally acquired to serve (to protect our public water supply) as is required by Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution. 

The proposed ground mounted array at 1 Milestone Road will require clearing 10 acres of vegetated land which is mapped as Priority Habitat for 6 state listed rare and endangered species which the state Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) has determined will be negatively impacted. The project will also require installation of equipment and structures within the Zone 1 buffer to our public water supply wells. The Town is actively engaged in permitting with appropriate state agencies to address these issues. The NLC’s counsel has also determined that the property is protected under Article 97 of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Constitution, which prohibits a municipality from changing the use of land originally acquired to preserve certain natural resources for the public. This property was acquired by a vote of Town Meeting in 1987 for the protection of Nantucket’s water supply, and a change in use requires a subsequent vote of Town Meeting, which was made in 2011, as well as a 2/3 vote of the state legislature. Article 97 was an amendment to the constitution enacted in 1972 in support of citizens’ rights to a clean environment. It was intended to serve as a legislative “check” to make sure that land acquired by towns for conservation purposes is not subsequently converted to inconsistent uses. We are looking to the Town to complete this process with the state as it is not only appropriate public policy to do so, but is also a requirement of the state constitution.