William Francis: Going green but at what cost? – The Sun Chronicle

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Earlier this month, a two-alarm fire in a solar panel on a warehouse’s roof on Norton’s Mansfield Avenue, resulted in the evacuation of employees due to the smoke.

Even with the help of four town emergency departments, it took over an hour to extinguish the blaze. The incident serves as a stark reminder of the potential risks associated with solar panels. A larger solar fire could seriously endanger the health and safety of our communities.

This incident also raises questions about the ‘go green’ movement, which, while well-intentioned, is often driven by lobbyists and politics. It is crucial to ensure that environmental sustainability does not come at the cost of people’s health and safety.

Many, including myself, are deeply concerned about Nextsun LLC’s Solar Farm, scheduled to be constructed at the Fairland cranberry bogs above the Canoe River Aquifer in Norton.

An organized group of Bay Road residents have taken legal action to halt the project. The state’s final environmental impact report, states: “The project includes approximately 10,540 tracking solar panels … two inverters and eight converters, two transformers, and eight battery storage containers.” (There may be an adjustment to four to eight containers.) The four to eight battery storage units will contain 75-150 tons of lithium-ion batteries, which are known for their potential fire hazards and resulting environmental impact.

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation has designated the Canoe River Aquifer as part of the “Areas of Critical Environmental Concern Program.”

This solar farm has the potential to significantly threaten the drinking water if a leak or spill from solar panels and battery storage units were to occur. These could lead to contamination of the Canoe River Aquifer, which supplies 15% of the drinking water for Norton, Easton, Foxboro, and Taunton.

The battery storage containers, designed to store lithium-ion batteries, measure approximately 8 feet by 10 feet by 40 feet. If a battery were to catch fire, the heat from the battery could potentially cause a thermal runaway chain reaction. This could result in the surrounding batteries overheating and igniting, leading to the entire battery container burning and seriously threatening the environment and our water supply.

There are insufficient water resources in the Fairland Bog area to extinguish 75-150 tons of lithium-ion batteries.

Last August in Wareham, for example, firefighters had to use 11,000 gallons of water to extinguish a single electric vehicle fire that started when the car spontaneously burst into flames. In another, similar fire earlier this year in Wakefield, firefighters spent nearly three hours pouring 20,000 gallons of water on a car that had caught fire after a crash into a guardrail. Fire officials say a fire for a gas-powered vehicle usually requires just 750 to 1,000 gallons of water before it’s extinguished.

The average weight of an EV battery is 1,000 pounds. Even when using a lesser amount of 37,500 pounds of batteries in one container, multiplied by the 11,000 gallons to extinguish the EV battery, the total amount of water needed would exceed 4.5 million gallons of water.

The millions of gallons needed to extinguish such a fire, mixed with the burning lithium-ion batteries, would create hydrofluoric acid, a highly explosive and corrosive material. This hazardous waste seeping into the Canoe River Aquifer has the potential to contaminate the drinking water in four towns and create a severe environmental hazard.

I recently expressed my concerns about the Norton solar project to state Rep. Jay Barrows and state Sen. Paul Feeney. Barrows told me he had written a letter to the responsible statehouse committees outlining the need to prevent the project from proceeding. He strongly suggested I do the same.

I was disappointed to learn Feeney’s office replied that he saw this as a local matter and did not provide specific plans or actions to address the issue. It is worth noting that Feeney’s district includes the towns of Norton, Mansfield, and his hometown of Foxboro.

I found his response irresponsible as it fails to acknowledge the potential risks posed by the solar farm to our drinking water and the environment.

Many other questions need to be answered, such as whether PFAS — forever chemicals that communities are presently trying to eliminate from our drinking water supplies — are used on solar panels to keep the surface areas clean. Also, what happens to panels after their expected life span of 20-25 years expires? Are the panels recycled or disposed of in landfills?

It is crucial that we act now to protect our communities and our environment. Politicians and green energy lobbyists are pushing solar technologies on Massachusetts citizens, whether they are wanted or even safe. The green energy industries want to make money, but the health and safety of people and the environment come first.

The ongoing legal action to stop the project is a step in the right direction, but we must remain vigilant. Let’s hope common sense prevails over political agendas and dangerous green technology.

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