Municipal Solar Overlay District

To the Editor:

We’d all like to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and save money, right? Solar photovoltaic panels are a great way to achieve this, but not all of us are fortunate to have a roof that isn’t shaded and that faces the right direction, a suitable yard for ground-mounted panels or the financial resources to pay the up-front costs for our own solar system. The concept of a community solar garden is to provide “virtual” solar power for people in this situation. The area around Marion’s dump – the top of the capped landfill in particular – is the ideal location for a solar garden: it’s out of sight, sunlight is unobstructed, access to the power grid is nearby, it’s nearly level and already fenced-in, the land is town-owned and otherwise useless, and you already voted last year to allow the landfill to be leased for a solar project.

The approval of Article #31 would create a Municipal Solar Overlay District that includes about 50 acres around the capped landfill, in which the construction of solar arrays is allowed without the requirement of a special permit from the Planning Board. This does not mean, however, that any proposed projects would circumvent substantial oversight. On the contrary: not only would an applicant have to satisfy a site plan review and obtain a building permit, but the state’s Department of Environmental Protection requires a Post-Closure Permit for any project on a capped landfill. This MassDEP permit is substantially more rigorous and technical than a town-issued special permit, and even better, the engineering costs are born by the state, not the town! Adding the requirement of a special permit (in addition to a building permit, a site-plan review, and the DEP permit) is not only unnecessary, but this extra burden may deter solar companies from bidding on the construction of a community solar garden on Marion’s landfill. MassDEP has already permitted solar arrays on 40 capped landfills. The technology is mature, the risks are minimal and the benefits are substantial.

So why is the Planning Board refusing to support this Overlay bylaw unless it requires a special permit? It’s simple. They would lose the power to say “no” to a community solar garden on the landfill.

Let’s look at the benefits of a community solar garden to Marion residents. First, the town would receive a lease payment for use of the landfill; remember, right now it earns the town nothing. The solar developer would be responsible for the financing and insurance. There would be no cost to the town to construct the solar system. Any Marion resident may buy a subscription for which he/she receives solar-generated electricity over some time period. The solar garden in Brewster is a good example: subscribers pay $5,000 for five years of power from 28 solar panels, and they are guaranteed $6,400 worth of electricity – a 22 percent savings. The discount is applied directly to their NSTAR electric bill. Everyone qualifies, no taxes. The Brewster garden has been so successful that they’re already working on another. Read about it in an article at www.cape on October 14, 2012.

And last but not least, the Overlay with no special permit would satisfy the first criterion for Marion to become a Green Community, perhaps someday joining the now 114 towns in Massachusetts (30 percent) that have already achieved this status. Recent letters and rumors have made this program sound pretty scary, but the truth is that it’s simply a set of five common-sense actions that reduce energy use and save money in the long run. One is for towns to develop a plan – just a plan, mind you – to reduce municipal energy use by 20 percent over five years. Good idea, right? Another is for towns to buy more energy-efficient vehicles when it’s time to replace the ones they already have (excluding trucks and police cruisers). What’s wrong with that? And one includes guidelines for building new homes that are more energy efficient – using things like good insulation, efficient water heaters and furnaces, and windows that don’t leak energy. Sure, these choices add a few percent to the cost of a house up-front, but after a few years, they save the owner money for the life of the house. Ask any realtor: an energy-efficient home is worth more than an energy-wasteful one.

We on the EMC plan to research each of these criteria one by one, decide if they make sense for Marion, and if they do, bring them to you at Town Meeting for you to decide.

The Municipal Solar Overlay District is a win-win situation for Marion and its residents. A once-useless dump would provide income to the town and solar power to residents and businesses, and we as a community could take one small step toward being just a little greener. Please attend Town Meeting on May 13 and 14, and support a new sun zone in Marion.

Jennifer Francis

Marion Energy Management Committee


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