Proposed solar bylaws would affect all areas, including residential neighborhoods

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By Wednesday, Mar 1 Letters  6 Comments
The zoning map for the town of Great Barrington.

To the Editor:

The Planning Board (PB) will be voting soon on new solar bylaws in preparation of the Annual Town Meeting. We urge the Board to incorporate major changes and encourage townspeople to attend the hearing on March 8th at 7 p.m.

While the intention is a good one, the proposed bylaw would allow solar installations of unlimited size in many parts of town including residential neighborhoods. This could change the entire character of the Town, conflicting with the Master Plan.

Regarding renewable energy, the Master Plan states:

“But energy production occupies land and thus competes with housing, businesses, agricultural, and open space and recreational uses. Objectors…cite concerns about aesthetics, compensation, property values, property rights, public health and safety. A balance must be struck between these concerns and costs and benefits to the property owner, to the tax base, and to meeting regional energy needs.”

Town goals

Consider:

  1. If we want to be self-sufficient in renewable energy, then we have already achieved about 70 percent of our goal. (Existing solar installations in town currently generate approximately 5 megawatts of the 7 solar megawatts needed to cover our 3,500 homes.)
  2. We should consider other factors such as the effect on the character of residential neighborhoods, historic areas, rural landscapes, farmland and forestland as well as on property values.
  3. We should limit the number and size of installations.

It is not sufficient to limit solar proposals by giving the Planning Board broad discretion to allow or deny any proposal under a special permit application. Allowing the Board to grant a special permit to an industrial scale solar project, especially in residential zones, would set a terrible precedent. This authority would create unnecessary uncertainty for current and future residents.

The broad and balanced goals reflected in our current zoning bylaws should determine what should be allowed in any new solar bylaw. We SHOULD NOT use the discretionary “Special Permit” mechanism as the main method for determining how our neighborhoods should be shaped.

Technology

Technology is rapidly changing. Powerful solar roof tiles are expected to be commercially available within two years. They would be indistinguishable from conventional tiles. Thus, technology displacement and abandonment should be addressed.

State guidelines

Attorney Ira Kaplan, who attended the last meeting, read guidelines for model solar bylaws from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources Department that encourage placement of solar arrays on roofs, over parking lots and on distressed lands such as Brownfields and NOT on fertile farmland or forests.

The proposed guidelines do not reflect these State guidelines.

We applaud the decision of the Planning Board to reconsider the effects of the solar bylaw but have not yet seen the revisions. As of February 23rd, the proposal allows the following in residential areas, and recommendations are noted below:

  1. Solar Roof-mounted (any size). Would be allowed “by right”. [1]
  2. INDIVIDUAL scale (currently defined as anything up to 1,750 sq. ft.), “by right”. [2]
  3. SMALL scale (up to 4,000 sq. ft.). Allowed at the discretion of the PB. [2]
  4. MEDIUM scale (up to 40,000 sq. ft. which is 1 acre). Can be installed at the discretion of the PB in the R3 and R4 areas and on any lot larger than 5 acres. [3]
  5. LARGE scale (larger than 1 acre) can be installed at the discretion of PB in the R2 and R4 areas and on any lot larger than 5 acres. There is no limit on the maximum size of these industrial solar installations. [3]

Recommendations

[1] Reasonable, but a size limitation should be considered.

[2] Ground-mounted panels should NOT be allowed in residential zones as 1,750 square feet is the size of a house.

[3] This should be reviewed with a cautious eye as they conflict with open space, aesthetics, property values and agricultural resources. We could inadvertently convert our residential communities into industrial zones.

Consideration beyond solar power generation should be reflected in any new solar bylaw so that the largest installations are limited to industrial zones.

Sharon Gregory, Patricia Ryan, and Gabrielle Senza

Great Barrington


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6 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Kathleen Williams says:

    “Powerful solar roof tiles are expected to be commercially available within two years.”
    Actually there are already homes in Massachusetts with residential roof tiles; I have seen them.
    See http://www.oksolar.com/roof/

  2. Brandee Nelson says:

    Sharon, Patricia and Gabrielle – Thank you for your letter. Please take note the Planning Board continues to hold the public hearing open for the solar zoning law and we will continue the hearing at 7 pm at Town Hall on 3/9. In response to public comment, the Planning Board deliberated and made changes to the solar zoning law at our meeting last week. A revised draft will be available on the Town’s website soon. Good to see a robust public process!

    1. Sharon Gregory says:

      Thanks Brandee! Please let people know when the new draft will be available so they can review before the meeting. Thanks for extending the hearing!

  3. Joe Carini says:

    Thanks Sharon, Pat & Gabrielle.
    Most of us are in favor of renewable Energy. The Sunday Eagle printed a column explaining that The Commonwealth of Ma is entertaining a new, widely supported bill which would mandate that 100% of the Commonwealth’s fuel needs be met by renewable sources by 2050. This will not likely be achieved by encouraging 1750 sq. ft. installations on 6,500 sq. ft. residential lots as has been originally suggested by our planning board. Nor will spoiling our beautiful Berkshire vistas be a great idea in leading the charge to this energy independence.
    Commercial roof tops, brownfield sites, well screened, underutilized sites should be exhausted first. If you don’t want to wake up to an 85′ x20′ x who knows how high solar installation in your neighbors back yard, I suggest you get to the next planning board meeting , March 8 at 7PM , and share your thoughts.
    Our Planning Board Chairperson, Brandee Nelson has shown an appropriate willingness to hear the concerns of GB citizens on this matter. If you don’t show up , don’t complain later .

  4. Sharon Gregory says:

    Please note the PB meeting is on Thursday, 3/9, at 7. My letter said 3/8 erroneously.

  5. Michelle Loubert says:

    Many thanks to everyone, especially Sharon, for the hard work on this. I live in Housatonic, home to three solar installations, making Housatonic somewhat of a “solar village.” Many areas of Housatonic are industrial. However, these old industrial sites are surrounded by homes and neighborhoods–people. When being installed, these large scale installations very much disrupted the Housatonic community–installation is not a pleasant experience. At present, an array is being installed off of Van Deusenville Road at the Nolan gravel bed site. A terrible sight as one walks, drives, runs, cycles, etc. down Van Deusenville Road. I hope that just because an area is “industrial” that this does not mean a free for all when it comes to these solar installations with little to no sensitivity shown to the people who live in the area. In my opinion, this has been the case in Housatonic. As has been stated many times before, solar is a good thing but there can be too much of a good thing, and, in my opinion, we are nearing that point. I know Housatonic has.

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