Solar Bylaw: Planning Board approves regulations; Schools and non-profit projects need ZBA approval

by Beth Melo on September 22, 2015

Last night, the Planning Board approved the rules and regulations for solar projects covered by the Solar Bylaw. The related discussion clarified that installations by schools and non-profits are subject to approval by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Town Planner Jennifer Burney started the public hearing by explaining what kinds of projects are restricted by the bylaw.

The bylaw limits ground mounted commercial projects of 250 Kw or higher. Those projects are limited to the Industrial and Industrial Park zones.

However, the Town is unable to restrict zoning of roof mounted projects of any size or ground mounted projects under 250 KW. State law allows those installations by rights in any zone. (Burney later specified an exception for “car structures” in parking lots. The new regulations define those as ground mounted.)

What is less clear in state law is the standing of solar installations built by schools, the municipality, and other non-profits. Town Counsel has advised that those entities must petition the Zoning Board of Appeals for review.

It is expected that the ZBA would then consult counsel on each project.

School Committee member Paul Desmond had hoped that school projects would be exempt from commercial limitations. The district recently shared plans to research installing solar projects at school and town properties.

Desmond acknowledged that schools would be selling the power to offset energy costs. But he saw that as different from roadside projects built for profit. 

Desmond explained that the schools have a history of roof issues, so its unlikely they could pursue roof mounted panels. And he clarified that the K-8 Schools aren’t likely to use their installations for educational purposes.

Burney said the current bylaw would require the district to submit their plans to the ZBA for a decision, the same as St. Mark’s School will for its recently announced plans. She offered the Planning Board an option to propose changing the Bylaw to remove zoning restrictions for schools or municipalities.

Chair Don Morris wasn’t in favor. He stated that the board had decided that school projects should be judged by their own merits. He argued:

having a ground mounted system in a school yard, in a residential neighborhood would raise some additional concerns and questions.

The board appeared to be in consensus with no other members commenting.

No one from the audience posed any objections to the solar rules. And Burney stated that the board hadn’t received any advance opposition by email.

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