Committees send solar energy system ordinance on to public hearing

| Joanne Cole, NGX | It reads like a riddle with a distinctly New England slant: What do you get when you put a dozen members of three town committees […]

| Joanne Cole, NGX |

It reads like a riddle with a distinctly New England slant: What do you get when you put a dozen members of three town committees together in a meetinghouse?

The answer: close examination of the town’s new solar energy system ordinance. Developed by the Land Management Planning Committee with the guidance of town planner Scott Hastings and a strong assist from knowledgeable members of the community, the ordinance now goes to public hearing on Tuesday March 3 at 7 pm.

Introducing the ordinance at a special joint meeting of the Select Board, Planning Board, and LMPC on February 11, planner Hastings characterized the proposed ordinance as “very permissive.” He said it “allows solar in most cases and just provides some performance standards to make sure [the systems] are not going to have a detrimental impact on neighbors, or the environment, or the scenic-ness of our town.”

Depending on their size, type, and location, projects trigger different application and review criteria under the new ordinance.  Smaller systems would be reviewed for permits by the code enforcement officer, as happens now. Ground-mounted arrays larger than 1500 s.f. would undergo detailed site plan review by the planning board, however. Ground-mounted systems in the Historic District, and building-mounted systems visible from the roads there, would also see planning board review. Special restrictions apply in resource protection zones.  Arrays exceeding 10,000 s.f. would face additional requirements for decommissioning and removal.  

Members of the planning board, responsible for interpreting and applying the ordinance, had the most questions. Ben Tettlebaum asked whether it was typical elsewhere to require detailed review for 1500 s.f.-sized projects. Hastings explained that because most homes and local businesses can be powered with an array 1500 s.f. or smaller, the requirement is unlikely to be a barrier. Tettlebaum and others sought clarification about impervious surfaces, shared ownership of systems, and who is qualified to conduct visual impact studies, among other topics.

Select board member Tammy Donovan asked about the town’s options if a large array were abandoned and why the town manager rather than the select board determines what financial guarantee to accept to ensure removal of large arrays. Karen Gilles, also on the select board, inquired whether the ordinance could be a self-contained, stand-alone document.

Questions dispatched, the committees huddled separately. Straw votes followed. Reconvening the full group, select board chair Linda Chase announced approval for sending the ordinance to its next stop: a public hearing before the planning board on March 3.

The solar ordinance arose from concerns that local landowners were being approached for large-scale solar projects, with no policy or regulations in place to guide development. Voters approved a temporary moratorium on solar projects to give the LMPC time to develop a comprehensive ordinance. The draft was developed over recent months.

The draft solar ordinance shared with committees can be accessed here. Video of the February 11 joint meeting can be viewed here.