Hello Neighbor –

I’m writing to ask for your help at the August 20th Special Town Meeting. There are some folks who don’t like the idea of Belchertown land owners like Cowls cutting trees for solar. They’ve asked people to sign a petition to stop a solar farm we have in the works.  I want to provide you with some facts about some of the issues being raised so you can make an informed decision.

A lot of people don’t know about WD Cowls and our commitment to sustainability. We’ve been Tree Farmers for almost 300 years. My brother Evan and I are 9th generation caretakers of many acres of land in western Massachusetts, including over 1,300 acres in Belchertown. Cowls makes conservation a priority. We’re placing Conservation Restrictions on over 5,400 acres near Belchertown.  And we’re committed to doing our part to reduce our region’s dependence on fossil fuels by growing local sources of clean, renewable energy.

Cowls’ solar farms support the Commonwealth’s renewable energy goals and save residents money on their electric bills.  They also generate significant back- and in-lieu-of tax payments, as well as increased property tax revenue going forward for the entire community’s benefit. Rural town leaders in western MA are grateful for the income potential commercial solar sites provide.

You may be wondering how we chose solar sites. The proposed solar installations are sited away from environmentally sensitive areas and in close proximity to three phase power interconnections and substations.  Because our identified solar sites are highly developable, and there’s popular demand in Belchertown, these sites are the same ones in which developers of residential subdivisions have expressed interest.

There are people who claim it’s environmentally harmful for Cowls to cut down trees to build solar farms. In fact, trading trees for solar (built on a meadow of grassland) is many times more beneficial to the environment on a carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration/offset basis.  On average, one acre of New England forest each year absorbs 30,340 pounds of CO2 while an acre of solar farm offsets 256,230 pounds.

People are concerned Cowls is converting too much forest land to solar.  Know that we will continue to grow trees on 95% of our land base including on over 1,000 acres of woodlands in Belchertown.  And we will continue to grow our working forest land base.

Some folks are upset that the area where they’ve enjoyed hunting and hiking will change. That’s true and regrettable, but necessary.

People ask who will protect areas and species of concern. State and local environmental agencies have a rigorous approval process that ensures natural resource and specie protection. Adverse impacts are minimized by raised fences for small animal passage and meadow plantings under the screw-mounted solar panels. Similar forest openings are initiated on many of our Tree Farms as we work with Massachusetts Fish & Game to assure that there is sufficient habitat to support migratory birds and other species.

Nine generations of Cowls family members have been willing to invest in long-term solutions that are beneficial to families other than our own. All of our land use decisions weigh the critical balance between conservation and development. They always have, and always will.

After considering the facts, please bring a friend and attend the Special Town Meeting being held on Monday, August 20th at 7pm at the Belchertown High School. You can support sustainable progress by voting No on all three warrant articles.

Thanks for your time

Cinda Jones