Marion Solar By-Laws

To the Editor:

Marion needs a solar bylaw that serves and protects both its businesses and its residents, while allowing access to the benefits of energy from the sun. At present, the town’s zoning bylaws do not specifically address solar installations, leaving the Building Inspector and potential applicants without definitive guidance. Massachusetts General Law 40A, however, permits solar installations in all zones, limiting a town’s ability to regulate them except to protect the public’s health, safety or welfare. We endorse the idea of the state’s promotion of solar energy but believe that our town’s bylaw should provide a few reasonable guidelines such as size limits, setbacks and screening requirements, particularly in residential zones, for the protection of abutters. Over the last year we have worked with the Selectmen and the Planning Board to draft two bylaws presented in Articles 30 and 31 of the warrant that will be considered at the Town Meeting on May 13.

The first of these two solar bylaws proposed by Marion’s Energy Management Committee provides a legal framework and design guidelines for all new solar installations in Marion. It includes three categories of solar installations, summarized as follows (see the warrant for complete language):

Category #1: Roof-mounted Solar Systems. A number of these roof-mounted systems already exist in Marion and have been producing power for years. For new installations, a building permit is required, and the installation must meet building and electrical codes. Panels shall conform to existing roof contours and not extend more than 12 inches above surface of pitched roofs. On flat roofs in General Business Zoning Districts and Limited Industrial Districts, panels may be installed at angles up to 45 degrees from the horizontal.

Category #2: Ground-mounted Solar Photovoltaic (PV) or Thermal Systems with Collector Area of Less than 600 square feet or a Combined (PV and Thermal) Collector Area of Less than 900 square feet. A building permit is required, lot size must be at least one acre, and the system must have been reviewed and approved in Minor Site Plan Review. In Residential Zoning Districts, the solar PV system shall not be capable of producing more than 120 percent of the locus’ annual electricity usage. (Note: a new solar array of 600 square feet can produce a little less than 10kW, which is enough electricity to supply a large three-bedroom home.)

Category #3: Ground-mounted Solar Systems with a Collector Area Exceeding 600 square feet (900 square feet combined). A building permit is required, installations are allowed in General Business, Marine Business, Limited Industrial, and the Municipal Solar Overlay Zoning Districts without Special Permit, and system must have been reviewed and approved in Major Site Plan Review. A Special Permit is required for installations in Residential Zoning Districts.

In addition, the following Design Standards and Dimensional Requirements apply to all ground-mounted installations:

1. Installations may not be lighted except as necessary for public safety.

2. Outdoor signage is not allowed except for emergency contact information.

3. All systems shall have setbacks of 35 feet and not exceed 10 feet in height. However, the Planning Board may permit a lesser setback or greater height to better suit existing conditions.

4. Fencing or landscaping of reasonable height and density shall be provided to screen views of ground-mounted systems from neighboring residential properties.

5. Large-scale clearing of forested areas for the purpose of constructing solar arrays is prohibited.

Utility connections shall be in accordance with National Electrical Code and be placed underground if possible.

The bylaw also requires a variety of safety and emergency plans, as well as funding to cover the removal of Category #3 systems in the event of abandonment.

Residents: you will be asked to vote on this bylaw at the Annual Town Meeting. To help you be better informed about this and other energy-related initiatives included on the warrant, watch for upcoming articles that will summarize their key features. Please take time to attend public hearings and come to Town Meeting prepared to cast your vote for solar energy in Marion.

Bill Saltonstall

Energy Management Committee


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