Solar Debate Continues

To the Editor:

When it comes to drafting a solar bylaw for the town of Marion, there are those who wish to do their part to stop the world’s momentum toward dangerous climate change, and there are others who seem to be more interested in burning every available drop of oil and gas until the world is in an irreversible downward spiral of extreme weather conditions, rising sea levels, and frightful living conditions for our children and grandchildren.

Our ability to participate, even if on a small patch of our own land, in curbing the use of the remaining fossil fuels is a very meaningful effort to those of us who do care. And we all should care.

The Energy Management Committee was appointed by the Selectmen to seek ways that the town could both reduce its energy use and save tax dollars. That effort is what spurred us to write Articles 30 and 31 of this year’s town meeting warrant.

Article 30 was crafted to permit property owners in Marion to install solar arrays that convert the sun’s energy into electrical power for their own use. These panels can be expected to generate power for 20 or 25 years with little or no maintenance and reduce NSTAR bills close to zero. Roof-mounted solar is great if your house has new roof shingles and the proper orientation to the sun.

But for those of us whose roofs are shaded or face the wrong direction, small ground-mounted solar panels can be more efficient. The proposed bylaw would limit the size of these systems so as to produce approximately what is used on the property. A 325-square-foot solar array will power an average house. An array up to a maximum of 600 s.f. is allowed, however, for those who use more power. These small residential systems all require a building permit and are subjected to the Site Plan Review process by the Planning Board, allowing abutters to make their feelings known prior to the issue of a building permit.

The Solar Bylaw also addresses large ground-mounted installations. Since the size of such installations is larger, we felt they should require additional regulation, thus these systems must also pass through the Planning Board’s Special Permit process. Further, the bylaw states that “large scale clearing of forested areas for the purpose of constructing solar arrays is prohibited.” So the Planning Board is given the responsibility of protecting our woodlands as well as reviewing the details of screening or fencing in the areas where these large projects are proposed. In fact the Special Permit process gives the Planning Board the “power to say no” to these projects if it deems they are bad for our town. But as tax-paying businesses, solar power providers can also provide substantial revenue to the community without contributing noise, pollution, traffic, or the need for more classrooms for children.

OK, but what about the idea of placing a 2.4-acre solar installation on the top of the town’s landfill? A year ago, the Town Meeting voted to authorize the Selectmen to lease the landfill “for the purpose of allowing the land to be developed as a photovoltaic field in a manner beneficial to the town.” During Town Meeting, the concept of a community solar garden was explained and well supported. It will be possible to deliver power from the landfill to as many as 100 residences and small businesses through remote net metering at a cost below NSTAR’s normal rate, allowing townspeople to buy solar power just as if they had been able to install a system on their own property, but by investing for a shorter period at a reduced cost. Ted North faults the concept because the bylaw does not require a Special Permit in the 50 acres of municipal land surrounding the dump. But put yourself in the position of the solar contractor who is asked to submit a proposal to construct a solar garden on the landfill and learns that every member of the Planning Board has voted to oppose the project and that they will serve as the permit-granting authority in the Special Permit process. Why bother! Our bylaw grants the Planning Board a Site Plan Review and calls for the rigorous review of the state Department of Environmental Protection Post-Closure permit process, but we are not willing to give the Planning Board the power to say “no” to this project.

Over the past year our committee has labored for countless hours to bring solar to Marion with bylaws that address all types of installations. We have drafted two bylaws that preserve the individual’s right to access solar energy while protecting the character of the town. We have done it in spite of a Planning Board that seems to resist technological progress and ignore planning for our future. Our efforts have been rejected and the town has been put on hold to give the Planning Board time to create their own bylaw that will require all applications for ground-mounted solar systems to pass through their ambiguous, onerous, and expensive Special Permit process. Yes, by now we are more than a little frustrated with our Planning Board, but with your yes vote on Articles 30 and 31, we shall continue to press for sun power in Marion. Please attend Town Meeting on May 13/14 and support these bylaws.

Bill Saltonstall

Marion Energy Management Committee


To the Editor:

In recent weeks, we’ve seen a flurry of letters in the papers, along with discussion in meetings and public hearings, regarding Marion’s future for capturing energy from the sun. Let’s recap by circling back to last year’s spring Town Meeting. In May 2012, Marion’s residents approved two warrant articles promoted by the Energy Management Committee. The first allowed the town to purchase wind-generated electricity from turbines in Plymouth, and soon all the town’s facilities and schools (including ORR) will be powered by wind. The second article gave the green light for a community solar garden on the town’s capped landfill. The message we heard loud and clear last year from Marion’s residents was that they want to move forward, joining the state, nation, and the world in becoming more energy-efficient and kicking our fossil-fuel addiction. This is exactly why the Selectmen created the EMC, and this is exactly the EMC’s focus, while also preserving the special character of our town.

Unfortunately, however, our elected Planning Board does not appear to share this vision. While it is the Planning Board’s job to develop new zoning bylaws for the town, the Massachusetts law 40A that promotes solar installations “by right” throughout the state has existed since 2008, yet the Planning Board has done nothing to address its impacts on Marion. When the EMC stepped up to assist in developing a bylaw to guide solar projects, we were met with resistance at every turn. Rather than creating a clear, sensible bylaw that provides straightforward guidelines for proposed solar installations, they demanded an ambiguous and onerous Special Permit process, which recent history tells us is cumbersome, inefficient, and expensive (e.g., Dunkin Donuts, Cumberland Farms). Clear guidelines through good bylaws help everyone: the applicants, the abutters, and the town boards.

The Planning Board’s opposition to the two proposed solar bylaws is simple. They refuse to support the general Solar Bylaw (Article 30) because there is no special permit requirement for small ground-mounted systems in residential areas. The town’s existing general bylaws say you have the right to build – with no Planning Board input whatsoever – a tennis court, a swimming pool, and even a garage on your property. These are all considered “accessory structures,” as would be a small solar system, and they only require a simple building permit from the Building Inspector. The proposed bylaw for solar panels requires some additional restrictions to assuage neighbors, including reasonable height and size limits, screening, and a minimum lot size. As long as one complies with the bylaw guidelines, a special permit from the Planning Board is unnecessary and inconsistent with requirements for other accessory structures. If one wishes to deviate from bylaw requirements, then a special permit is required. That’s why it’s called a “special” permit to deal with special cases. It is not meant to apply to all cases, as the Planning Board desires.

The second bylaw, proposed in Article 31, would create a Municipal Solar Overlay District that includes 50 town-owned acres around the landfill. A special permit would not be required to build a community solar garden on top of the landfill (i.e., the Planning Board would not be able to deny it), and the District would also satisfy the first of five requirements for Marion to become a Green Community, joining 114 other towns that are already saving energy through this program. A great deal of ominous information has appeared in the papers lately about the Massachusetts’ Green Communities program, much of which is irrelevant or outright wrong.

Very simply, the GC program is designed to help towns save energy through energy audits of town facilities (audits provided free of charge), encouraging the purchase of more energy-efficient vehicles when the time comes to replace them, and promoting building practices that use energy-efficient materials. The EMC is not pushing the town to become a GC, but rather we are carefully evaluating each criterion to determine whether it makes sense for our town, just as the Selectmen asked us to. Ultimately, this decision would be made by Marion’s residents at Town Meeting. It is unclear why the Planning Board is so fearful of taking this first small step toward energy efficiency. It cannot be for lack of oversight for the community solar garden on the landfill, as the project would require a rigorous Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection post-closure permit that far exceeds any assurance that their special permit could provide. What they would lose is the ability to “just say no,” while the town would gain a first step toward becoming a bit greener. Note that both Fairhaven and Carver have built or are building solar projects on their capped landfills – no special permit was required.

The Planning Board members spend countless hours working to keep Marion’s character intact and prevent the ugly development that has occurred in so many neighboring towns. They care deeply for our community and have our best interests at heart. In this particular case, however, “change” is not a four-letter word. Marion’s residents have clearly said they want to see more of their energy come from the sun. The solar bylaws presented in Articles 30 and 31 provide clear guidelines to make state law 40A work for our town and avoid the situations faced by Mattapoisett, Carver, and other communities who had no bylaw in place to regulate applications for large solar arrays. Our bylaws make sure any solar projects in town protect Marion’s character while removing ambiguity and unnecessary oversight in the approval process. Please come to Town Meeting on May 13/14 and support solar energy in Marion. It’s time to move forward.

Jennifer Francis

Marion Energy Management Committee


To the Editor:

In the past few weeks, Ted North has provided a number of letters opposing the proposed solar bylaws drafted by the Energy Management Committee (EMC). Those letters have been full of misinformation, disinformation, and irrelevant information with the apparent goal of manipulating the fears and doubts of the residents to achieve a personal agenda.

Here are the relevant facts:

1. Massachusetts General Law 40A has been in effect for 5 years. It allows solar installations in a town “by right” and the town cannot unreasonably restrict the installation except for reasons of public health, safety or welfare. During those five years, the Planning Board has taken no initiative to protect the Town of Marion with reasonable bylaws.

2. The EMC, at the Selectmen’s direction, has developed proposed bylaws over the last year. In that period the EMC met with Planning Board members in 11 meetings and 2 hearings to discuss the development of the bylaws. This has not been a rush job without Planning Board involvement as he wants you to believe. The Planning Board has been uncooperative; it has been their way or no way.

3. The proposed bylaws are logical, clear, and in consonance with the definition of “accessory structures” in the existing bylaws. They have been crafted to provide an owner the ability to install a solar system and at the same time provide consideration for neighbors; everyone’s rights are protected. The bylaws do not put the town at-risk of a solar invasion by speculators any more than the current bylaws do. Actually less so as they provide clear direction to potential installers of what is required, whereas now there is no guidance whatsoever. Saying no is not a viable option; witness the current Town lawsuit and Mattapoisett’s recent acceptance of a proposed solar array on residential property.

4. The draft bylaws have been reviewed by Town Counsel and his suggestions were incorporated.

5. Solar panels are benign; they don’t move, they don’t smell, they don’t leak anything, they don’t make noise, and existing data indicates that they enhance the value of your home. They are installed using the same electrical safety standards that are required for your home.

6. The Article 31 “as of right zoning” only applies to the proposed Municipal Solar Overlay District, specifically the top of the capped landfill. Remember now that this is on top of the old dump, adjacent to the garbage transfer station and a cell tower, near the town’s wastewater treatment plant, a water tower, and an industrial composting operation; all of which are in a residential district. It is not clear what zoning protections the Planning Board considers necessary given the adjacent projects. The benefit of the location is that it is already within a fenced area, it is close to the power lines feeding the waste water treatment plant, no clearing is required, it is not visible to residents, it is not competing with any other proposed use, and any installation will have to be permitted by Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

7. MassDEP has permitted 40 renewable energy installations on landfills in Massachusetts. They have strict requirements to protect the landfill cap from damage. In the extremely unlikely event that the cap is damaged; it is a simple matter of uncovering the plastic cap and heat-sealing a patch. The required maintenance plan and environmental insurance will result in the landfill having more frequent inspections and better care than it currently gets.

The sky is not falling. The bylaws as proposed will protect you and the town. Please come to Town Meeting on May 13/14, vote yes for the two solar bylaws in articles 30 and 31 and help move Marion into the 21st century.

Norm Hills

Marion Energy Management Committee


To the Editor:

At this year’s Marion Town Meeting, voters will be asked to vote on two solar power related articles: the Solar Overlay District (article 31) and the Solar Bylaw (article 30). My comments relate to the Solar Bylaw (I think the proposed overlay district proposal is great.)

This may surprise Marion voters: As a real “greenie”and alternative energy supporter (I have operated Marion’s Parlow Mill Farm, an organic farm, for over 25 years), I urge Town Meeting voters to vote against article 30, the Solar Bylaw.

The proposal deals with three areas: commercial installations, commercial installations in residential zones, and home installations. I have no problem with Nos. 1 and 2. It is No. 3 that is the deal breaker.

No. 3, the home installation segment, will make it harder, much harder, for folks to have solar installations on their own properties. I feel we are better off with the state rules that are in place now, which encourage solar for homeowners.

And please don’t believe the nonsense about aesthetics. Marion is a town where the big blue tarp boat in the driveway is a status symbol! Compared to that, a little solar installation is nothing!

Annie Rockwell



To the Editor:

I am delighted to see Articles 30 and 31 in our Town Warrant, which establish reasonable and well-stated bylaws for solar installations in Marion. It is essential that we find ways to curb the use of fossil fuel energy sources. The use of these fuels is precipitating a calamity in climate change and exhausting our vital resources of petroleum. Petroleum is a treasure. It is extremely valuable. To give you a gauge for this statement, if a healthy individual were to peddle a bicycle type electrical generator for 40 man-hours per week for 8 weeks, he would produce the equivalent energy of a gallon of petroleum. At minimum wage, this would be equivalent to a value of $2,194.

My home has a good orientation to the sun, but due to tree shading is not satisfactory for a solar photoelectric array. I also have a concern about mounting solar panels on a shingle roof. The installation might cause leaks. Article 31 solves this problem. Hopefully, I can contract for solar energy atop of the town dump, which currently is wasteland. This would generate revenue for the town and place many solar panels in one location for easy service. This sounds like a win-win situation to me.

I am so pleased that we have a group in Marion that has been appointed by the Selectmen to move us ahead with renewable energy in the town. The Energy Management Committee is made up of experienced individuals who have done a thorough and enlightened job to produce bylaws at essentially no cost to the town. These bylaws have tried to provide the town residents with a document to follow with certainty so we can move forward without continuous hassling with town committees on our future solar installations. I am a great believer in generating a bylaw which documents the subject matter in sufficient detail that there is no need for future intervention by the Town if the resident follows the bylaw. This makes our lives much easier, free of uncertainty, and saves us time by not having to attend endless approval meetings.

I am surprised to see such instant rejection of these articles by the Marion Planning Board. This whole matter should have been resolved months ago. If the Board was run in a businesslike way, they would have sat down with the Energy Management committee, gone over the proposed articles item by item, and refined the document to the satisfaction of all concerned. Instead, there was immediate rejection. I have been wondering what was the matter. I am led to believe that is a case of NIH: Not Invented Here. If this is the case, we are being subjected to a lot of wasted time and frustration. If we approve the articles, nothing is lost. The articles can be modified as we gain more experience with them, as we have done with many other bylaws in the past.

There is probably another underlying element in the rejection of the articles. There are members on the Planning Board who do not think that renewable energy is a viable alternative for curbing our use of fossil fuels. I can only wince to think of trying to request permission for a solar installation to non-believers. This would be a disaster for those who believe that by our actions today, we can leave this planet a better place for future generations.

Please support articles 30 and 31. Your support will certainly be a truly positive step for Marion as a future-minded community. Let’s have peace and good will in the Town Hall in the future.


Ted Brainard


The views expressed in the “Letters to the Editor” column are not necessarily those of The Wanderer, its staff or advertisers. The Wanderer will gladly accept any and all correspondence relating to timely and pertinent issues in the great Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester area, provided they include the author’s name, address and phone number for verification. We cannot publish anonymous, unsigned or unconfirmed submissions. The Wanderer reserves the right to edit, condense and otherwise alter submissions for purposes of clarity and/or spacing considerations. The Wanderer may choose to not run letters that thank businesses, and The Wanderer has the right to edit letters to omit business names. The Wanderer also reserves the right to deny publication of any submitted correspondence. 

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