Officials Struggle for Solar Solidarity

With Town Counsel Jon Witten and Building Commissioner Scott Shippey in attendance to help navigate them through the working language of a bylaw intended for fall Town Meeting, the Marion Planning Board and Energy Management Committee met for another two and a half hours on Monday night to hammer out a policy on solar installations.

While members of the Planning Board – including Chair Patricia McArdle and former Chair Jay Ryder – extolled the “common ground” officials from the two entities had reached on guidelines for general-use ground-mounted residential installations after months of deliberations, infighting, and a divisive spring Town Meeting, a sticking point on regulations for solar farms in residential districts continued to stick.

Those regulations, as currently written in the potential bylaw, would allow landowners in residential districts to install extensive arrays on property greater than three acres with setbacks of at least 100 feet, with the purpose of selling back solar energy to the power grid. They would require a special permit and major site plan review.

“Solar farms by their nature are commercial projects,” said Planning Board Member Ted North, arguing that an alteration of zoning policy could be problematic for future governance and detrimental for property values. “There’s no difference between solar energy generation and small industrial gas turbines.”

“I completely disagree,” EMC Member Jennifer Francis responded. “It’s much less intrusive than what you’re talking about. It’s a totally different animal.”

Planning Board Vice Chair Stephen Kokkins reminded the parties about the possibility of separating the solar farm portion from the rest of the Solar Bylaw, while Ryder made the case for discarding it altogether.

“We’re biting off more than we can chew,” Ryder said. “We have come so far with the Energy Management Committee, and now we’re starting to muddy the water a little bit. It’s really important that the EMC and Planning Board are together on this bylaw. I think we’re getting a little far afield in discussing solar farms.”

As he would all evening, Planning Board Member Norm Hills, also an EMC member and solar advocate, disagreed with Ryder’s view, as well as that of Kokkins and North, while Planning Board members Steve Gonsalves, Rico Ferrari, and McArdle maintained a neutral position in advance of a Public Hearing on Sept. 3.

As it stands, officials will present three options that night: The Solar Bylaw including the solar farm portion as is; the Solar Bylaw including the solar portion with a provision for a “surgical” zoning overlay allowing for solar farms in specifically designated areas within residential districts (a proposition that EMC member Bill Saltonstall balked at, noting that it would be unfair to present such a plan without first drawing up an overlay); and the Solar Bylaw excluding the solar farm portion.

By Shawn Badgley


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