To the Editor:
The shorter days of fall signal the harvest season. This October, Marion’s residents will not only have to select the right pumpkin for their doorsteps, but also decide whether Marion’s Solar Bylaw will allow residents to harvest the sun’s energy on solar farms.
The Planning Board and the Energy Management Committee found a mostly clear path forward in crafting sections of the bylaw regulating solar arrays that produce electricity for on-site consumption, but standards for the larger systems remain a point of disagreement.
Some Planning Board members and residents have expressed opposition to allowing solar farms on any property zoned “residential.” At first blush, this might seem to be a reasonable view. What is not widely understood, however, is that in Marion’s case, the eligible sites are located within the 97% of Marion that is zoned residential. Moreover, dozens of commercial enterprises already exist on residential-zoned property in Marion, including excavating businesses, auto repair garages, restaurants, retail shops, and cranberry bogs. Prohibiting solar farms from residential districts is tantamount to banning them altogether.
The Solar Bylaw on the warrant for the fall Town Meeting provides for abundant oversight and restrictions on any proposed solar farms. Applications must pass through a Major Site Plan Review as well as obtain a Special Permit, both from the Planning Board. Screening, setbacks, and height restrictions are clearly spelled out, public hearings provide for neighbor input, and an application can be denied if deemed unacceptable.
Unfortunately, however, the Planning Board has decided to veer onto a different path. After submitting the bylaw for the warrant, they then changed course and decided to recommend on Town Meeting floor that the sections of the bylaw addressing solar farms be stricken, with the intent of spending the next six months developing a Solar Overlay District to present at the Spring 2014 Town Meeting. This overlay would delineate a few specific areas of town, outside of which solar farms would be prohibited. Deciding exactly which properties would fall within the overlay will require a lot-by-lot assessment of eligibility based on environmental and conservation restrictions, as well as the proximity of adjacent home sites to any proposed solar array in order to determine proper setbacks.
The EMC believes that creating this overlay is an unnecessary and arbitrary exercise. Practically speaking, it is likely that only a few applications for solar farms will materialize, and they can be thoroughly reviewed and managed, on a case-by-case basis, under the comprehensive regulations specified by the Solar Bylaw as written in the warrant.
Solar farms are sprouting all over the country as society recognizes the need to drastically and quickly reduce our fossil fuel consumption. Massachusetts is a leader in this regard, but Marion is woefully behind. Solar power is clean, quiet, safe, and getting cheaper every day. The EMC strongly supports the Solar Bylaw as printed on the warrant, and we entrust the Planning Board to apply its oversight to ensure solar farms will preserve Marion’s special character and protect the rights of all property owners. Please attend the special Fall Town Meeting at 6:45 pm on October 28 at Sippican School and cast your vote for solar power.
Member of Marion’s Energy Management Committee
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