On April 12, 2022, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) finalized changes to the Directive on the definition of agricultural solar tariff production units for the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program. These recent changes clarify and modify certain requirements related to solar development on agricultural land in Massachusetts.
As we reported in 2020, the SMART program remains a work in progress, aimed at encouraging solar development while managing land use in Massachusetts. One area of interest is solar development on agricultural land. The SMART program regulates solar power on farmland as a “farm solar rate generating unit”. An “Agricultural Solar Rate Generating Unit” is defined as “a Solar Rate Generating Unit located on Agricultural Land or on Significant Agricultural Land that allows the continued use of the land for agriculture”. The new guidelines continue to allow commercial solar power on farmland and address what may be termed an Agricultural Solar Tariff Generating Unit (ASTGU). Key changes include setting a program capacity target for 80MW AC ASTGUs, clarifying compatible sunlight requirements, and establishing requirements on newly created farmland. Specifically, newly created farmland must be in agricultural production before applying for the program, and the clearing or conversion of forest land is prohibited. Conversion of agricultural land to fallow for ASTGU is permitted under the new guidelines. The guidelines also established requirements for farm plans, including requirements for hay production and animal grazing, allowing transition to new products and establishing a waiver process if expected yields are diminished. The updated regulations also cap ASTGU projects at 7.5 MW (DC).
These new guidelines significantly expand the units that qualify as ASTGUs under the SMART program and build on previous Massachusetts regulations to manage land use changes associated with solar development. In particular, the Commonwealth has long feared losing “prime” farmland (and forests) to solar and other development. The SMART program seeks to address this concern, at least in part.
Landowners and solar developers should also be aware that land enrolled in Massachusetts’ Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) program may be subject to other restrictions on solar development. According to guidelines issued by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) in 2018, solar installations on APR land are limited in size to double the farm’s documented historical energy consumption, which may cut off some commercial solar opportunities. . While Massachusetts is at the forefront of pioneering “dual-use” solar installations — for example, solar canopies under which crops can grow or livestock can graze — some tensions remain in the law governing certain solar developments on Massachusetts farmland.
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