Sunday, June 23, 2024

Cambridge residents need to be aware of the Zero Cambridge/Concord Turnpike Tracer Lane Solar Project under review by the Lexington Planning Board. The project is planned in a forestry area next to Lexington conservation land, the drinking water of the Cambridge reservoir and residential property in Waltham and Lincoln. The project would cut down approximately 800 trees over more than 9 acres and build a 4,000-panel solar installation. Imagine the tree loss and wildlife displacement.

The solar panels will be on a steep hill that slopes toward the reservoir, so there could create be runoff issues and soil erosion into the reservoir. Because of the proximity to the reservoir, there will be no foam fire suppression installed or used should there be a fire – foam could contaminate the water. Should there be a fire, and solar panels do catch fire more frequently than people think, the agreed-upon strategy by responding Lexington and Waltham fire departments is to “let it burn itself out.” You cannot fight an electrical fire with water, so all the responding firefighters will do is wet the ground near the abutting homes in hopes the fire will not spread. (It is proposed the panels will have a 50-foot setback from the residential property lines; much of the area between the property line and panel placement will be cleared.) This is the plan!

If there were a fire, the plume of smoke will contain lead and cadmium, carcinogens that would settle on the reservoir and contaminate the water. The smoke could travel for 1.25 miles and leave residue on homes in Lexington, Lincoln and Waltham. The potential for physical risk to firefighters is high. They will be exposed to toxic smoke, working on an extremely slippery and steep incline. The sole entry and exit to this solar field will be 20-foot-wide gravel path installed across a residential Waltham property owned by the developer.

Not usually mentioned: Solar panels deteriorate. They have a potential lifespan of 20 to 30 years. I mention this because due to the extreme slope of the installation, deterioration of the panels and the associated hazardous chemicals that could run off into the Cambridge reservoir. The Cambridge Water Department is aware of the project and is trying to ensure the reservoir is protected, but the Lexington Planning Board is indicating approval of the project.

The developer owns the land to be developed in Lexington, but lives in Cambridge and bought a home in Waltham – we believe this is solely to access the property in Lexington, which is not accessible because you need to cross protected wetlands or be granted access to use a road next to the Cambridge reservoir.

Waltham residents are not against solar. They have it on their homes. This is not a Nimby opposition. It is just a bad project with multiple problems. People may say solar panels don’t catch fire, and trains don’t get derailed – until they do. Look at the life and health impacts from that.

Sometimes a proposed project is just too risky, and trading off one hazard for another is never a good thing. The only person who would benefit from this project is the developer, and at the expense of many others.

Information is at WalthamNeighborsForSafeSolar.org.

Ed Sullivan, Waltham


The writer is a core group member of Waltham Neighbors For Safe Solar.