Planning Board is done. After adhering to a tight timeline totaling less than three months, it quickly completed its draft of a new solar bylaw that would allow large-scale solar installations up to 30 acres each, back into residential districts by means of a special permit.
At last April’s special Town Meeting, they supported the Solar Amendment prohibiting industrial size projects from all residential districts, but stated they would return in the fall with a revised bylaw as they “preferred” a special permit option that would address issues like destruction of woodlands and use of farm lands. A public hearing is set for 7:30 p.m. on Monday. Residents can discuss whether they support the new language, or prefer to continue prohibiting industrial projects from residential districts, as so overwhelmingly voted by the Town Meeting, 146-52.
While I respect the Planning Board’s decision to stay true to their word in creating a revision, I must ask: Is this proposal really in the best interest of our town? As an invited member of the Planning Boards’ Solar Advisory Group, I contributed and listened to the large number of issues raised. Although the board tried to address the majority of issues, some remain unresolved, including deforestation, confusing setbacks, environmental effects and lack of residential support. In the end, the board voted 3-2 in favor, and awaits the public’s feedback.
One important question remains unanswered. What is Dartmouth’s overall vision regarding solar energy?”
Environment Massachusetts, an environmental advocacy group, recently reported Dartmouth 12th out of 351 communities in our state for total number of solar installations. This ranking was mainly due to the large number of small (non-industrial) residential installations, indicating that our community is positively embracing the movement toward cleaner energy. Dartmouth also ranked fifth for its total solar generating capacity of 2.8 megawatts of power. On July 24, The Standard-Times reported this power was produced at Dartmouth’s three industrial solar plants. If the report had included the other four large plants on the horizon, I estimate that Dartmouth would have ranked first, with a total estimated capacity of 18 megawatts, far exceeding the current first place community with only 5.6 megawatts. Two of Dartmouth’s proposed projects are so large at over 6 megawatts each that they each exceed the current largest project in the state, which is only 4.5 megawatts. And for those not aware, two preliminary plans in residential districts were submitted to grandfather their zoning use before the April Town Meeting vote. These properties totaling about 200 acres are located between Old Fall River Road and Hixville Road and strongly rumored for solar use. This brings the current count to nine industrial projects, six being in residential districts.
We are indeed a green-minded community, but as Dartmouth rises to first in solar capacity, what will be given up in the process? How does the significant deforestation currently taking place equate to any “green movement”? Residents who have already experienced the unwelcome industrial installations in their neighborhoods have voiced the construction problems faced, estimated decline in property values, hazardous run-off from broken panels that may affect wells and future precedent being set allowing other commercial entities to enter residential districts.
Other communities are safeguarding their residential areas. One such community is Lakeville, which recently gained the state’s Green Community designation, with a solar bylaw approved by the attorney general Sept. 14 that restricts large installations to industrial districts only. Each town has a fundamental right to zone in accordance with the wishes of its community. Dartmouth Town Meeting members in June, with the support of both the Select and Planning boards, voted to restrict industrial-size wind turbines to industrial districts only. This restriction was a result of adhering to the many concerns and issues raised by residents over a number of years. The April Solar Amendment still allows large-scale solar installations in eight of our 12 districts. Also note that non-industrial-size wind turbines and solar installations are still allowed in residential districts and not affected by recent town votes. With an estimated 1,400+ acres of available land in Dartmouth’s commercial and industrial areas, (excluding wetlands, protected open space parcels and federal and state land), our community has already reasonably designated more than enough acreage under the current amended bylaw.
So while I respect the Planning Board’s attempt in revising the solar bylaw and appreciate the opportunity to contribute information, I believe the current draft as written is not in the best interest of residents. With lack of residential support for large-scale solar industrial projects in residential districts, a No. 1 ranking on the horizon, 1,400+ acres of non-residential land available, what is the benefit to our community in pursuing a special permit bylaw?
Concerned residents should attend the Aug. 20, public hearing, 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall to voice their concerns.
Gloria Bancroft lives in Dartmouth.
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