New England Legal Foundation Applauds Win For Solar Energy And Property Rights

Legal Non-Profit Had Urged Massachusetts Highest Court to Let Solar Development Proceed

BOSTON – The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) today ruled in favor of a utility scale solar development in Waltham, as urged by the New England Legal Foundation in its “friend-of-the-court” amicus brief. Foundation President Dan Winslow applauded the decision as a win for “free enterprise, property rights and solar energy development.”
In the case of Tracer Lane II Realty, LLC v. City of Waltham & Another, the high court ruled that the City of Waltham could not deny approval of a solar energy system on the grounds that an access road to the facility would constitute a commercial use in a residential zone.

Ben Robbins, NELF’s Senior Staff Attorney, who wrote and filed for NELF the Feb. 9 amicus brief, said of the SJC ruling, “The Court’s decision is a victory for the growing and crucial solar energy industry in the Commonwealth. The Court has enforced a solar energy developer’s statutory right to use its own residential property for solar energy purposes, unless the local government can show that the public health, safety, or welfare requires a restriction on that right. In this case, the city failed to show in any way how the prohibition on Tracer Lane’s property, let alone the prohibition on virtually all of the city’s available land, was ‘necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare,’ as required by the Massachusetts Zoning Act establishing solar energy systems as a protected land use. On this essential point, the Court agreed with NELF and therefore affirmed the Land Court’s decision permitting Tracer Lane to proceed with its access road.”

While the decision did not embrace broader protections urged by NELF, Winslow said he was pleased with the outcome. “The New England Legal Foundation stands for free enterprise, property rights, limited government based on rule of law, and inclusive growth. While the Court could have gone farther, it certainly went far enough, and we’ll continue to look to file amicus briefs in other cases to advance these interests in protected land uses,” said Winslow.

In its February 9 brief, NELF had argued that the city of Waltham arbitrarily denied Tracer Lane’s request to build an access road on its residential property, for the purpose of building and maintaining a proposed solar power facility it also owned in the bordering town of Lexington. “To make matters worse,” the brief continued, “the city has also categorically barred the use of virtually all other private property within its borders for solar energy structures.”


About the New England Legal Foundation
The New England Legal Foundation (NELF) is the only non-profit public interest law firm in the region dedicated to addressing policy and constitutional concerns related to free enterprise. NELF’s ongoing mission is to champion individual economic liberties, traditional property rights, properly limited government, and balanced economic growth. NELF challenges actions by governments and private litigants which would unreasonably intrude on the economic freedoms of individuals and business enterprises in New England and the nation. We believe that free enterprise is a linchpin of a democratic society and offers the most sustainable path to advance the American ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, including freedom from material want.


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