Solar in a Proper Context

To the Editor:

The media reports extolling the virtues of a proposed solar garden by Marion’s Energy Management Committee sited on the Marion landfill needs to be placed in a proper context.

An EMC objective is to change Marion’s zoning bylaws to allow “as a matter of right” zoning for the purpose of siting its’ private commercial solar garden on the Town’s landfill. Effectively, such zoning would allow the EMC to bypass traditional zoning protections. All commercial industrial projects designated as a permitted use by Marion’s zoning bylaws require a special permit and site plan review before they can be built. At this time, a commercial solar farm is not a zoning permitted use and therefore is not allowed in Marion without first changing the zoning bylaws by a two-thirds Town Meeting vote.

Any zoning change regarding commercial solar development in Marion should limit project siting to commercial and industrially zoned districts and require a special permit and site plan review to insure that our neighborhoods and open spaces are adequately protected. This is just good zoning public policy. Effectively, the EMC is looking to receive “favored nations” zoning privileges for its proposed solar garden not available to other commercial projects.

The EMC claims a commercial solar garden like the community vegetable garden would allow Marion resident access to solar energy not otherwise available to them as the result of geographical constants precluding roof top solar installations. How wonderful it would be to provide Marion residents access to solar power like the benefits of a community vegetable garden. A community solar garden has absolutely no corollary to a community garden.

Solar projects are incentive and tax-sheltered investments. Without state-mandated premium net metering power rates, alternative energy credits, state and federal tax incentives such as the 30 percent federal investment tax credit and accelerated deprecation, there would be no solar.

Solar garden participation would be limited to a small select group of well-heeled citizens. Most Marion residents will have no access to a solar garden. There are several reasons for this exclusion. First, it’s necessary to have a large taxable income appetite to be able to take advantage of the tax incentives. Most Marion residents will neither have the level nor the type of income that can effectively utilize the tax incentives, such as the federal 30 percent investment tax credit. Only professionally well-financed investors with access to the type of income that can utilize the tax benefits known as tax assets can effectively invest in solar projects.

Secondly, a solar garden structured to provide the maximum incentive and tax benefit returns sold as an investment interest is considered a security. The securities law regulatory environment is complex and can be very expensive. Effectively, only a limited group of Marion residence who qualify as “accredited investors” will be able to qualify to purchases shares or interests in the solar garden.

An accredited investor has to be sophisticated as to investment background and knowledge to assume and assess investment risk. Also, the accredited investor has to have a minimum net worth of $1 million or more, excluding their house, and or an annual income of $200,000. The average annual Marion household income is about $80,000.

At this point, it’s fair to ask the question of the EMC how can board-based community participation by all income levels be achieved with its proposed solar garden? Also, how can the EMC justify using the Town as a springboard, either directly or indirectly, to promote and to participate in the sale of private solar investment interests to a few well-heeled Town residents?

The commercial solar farm would be located on the environmentally sensitive landfill. Environmental incidents that may result from such an installation are extremely expensive to remediate and, generally, environmental liability insurance coverage is not available. The Town will have the liability and risk for any activity by a private developer using the site. This project is not such a good idea for our Town.

More detailed information is available in the U.S. Department of Energy’s “A Guide to Community Share Power,”, and taxation of solar energy credits as income is available at

Ted North



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One Response to “Solar in a Proper Context”

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  1. Bill Saltonstall says:

    Mr North’s letter comments about a proposed Community Solar Garden for Marion’s residents and small businesses are simply not true. As envisioned by Marion’s Energy Management Committee, those folks who cannot accommodate solar panels on their own property or who choose not to invest in their own solar equipment could become subscribers to solar power generated at the town’s capped landfill. They would pay a private developer a competitively-priced fee for the energy they take from the project, and their Nstar bills would be credited by their share of power net metered from the landfill. In this way their electric bills would be reduced and subscribers would have the satisfaction of using renewable power generated by the sun instead of dirty fossil fuels. The solar developer’s construction contract would call for appropriate protections for the town including environmental insurance, warranties, maintenance of the area, a lease payment, full compliance with the Department of Environmental Protection’s post closure requirements, and the Site Plan review of the Planning Board. I urge all voters to support Article 31. Bill Saltonstall Marion

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