September 9, 2013

Plymouth Planning Board: Future Town Meeting to consider solar restrictions

By Emily Clark | Wicked Local Plymouth | Posted Sep 05, 2013 |

PLYMOUTH – Town Meeting will wait until at least the spring to consider a zoning change that would require solar array developers to obtain a special permit before plunking a large solar field in a residential neighborhood.

Planning Board member Malcolm MacGregor is the force behind this proposal, geared at making it tougher to construct large solar arrays in residential areas.

Right now, solar arrays of any kind are allowed uses, which means developers can pretty much install them where they like. In the past few years, the Planning Board has been flooded with these types of projects and neighborhoods watched as acres of trees came down to make way for ground-mounted arrays.

In April, the Planning Board signed off on Brad Cushing’s plan to transform 30 acres of a 40-acre parcel he owns off Raffaele Road into a solar field. Last year, the board was obliged to approve one after another of these projects, including a three-megawatt solar field on a 17-acre Herring Pond Road parcel, a half-megawatt solar field off South Meadow Road and a 37-acre solar field off Old Sandwich Road. In almost all cases, some Planning Board members bemoaned the loss of woodlands to these uses, but there wasn’t much they could do about it.

The projects took some residents by surprise, since many didn’t realize solar projects don’t require a special permit or approvals beyond a sign off on site-plan review.

MacGregor’s proposed zoning change would require a two-thirds vote of Town Meeting, but it won’t appear on the warrant at least until the spring, to allow the town’s Energy Committee to weigh in on it.

MacGregor’s proposal would require a special permit for all large, ground-mounted solar array projects proposed in most residential districts.

Here’s the meat of the article:

“Large scale ground-mounted solar photovoltaic and thermal installations may be established in the rural residential (RR), large lot residential (R-40), medium lot residential (R-25), small lot residential (R20-SL), mixed density residential (R-20MD) and multi-family residential (R-20MF) zoning districts by special permit subject to environmental design conditions issued by the Planning Board. In all other zoning districts, ground-mounted large scale solar photovoltaic or thermal installations are allowed as-of-right and shall, prior to construction, installation or modification, undergo site plan review through the Planning Board, subject to compliance with the standards outlined in this section bylaw.”

With so many wind turbine projects mired in the appeals process and so many neighborhoods up in arms, solar fields have, for the most part, slipped under the radar – that is until residents and visitors noticed large parcels of woodlands were being gobbled up by arrays. Turning from the wind toward the sun for energy may be a smart move for some developers, but MacGregor’s proposal highlights growing opposition to even these alternative energy projects when planned in residential areas.

The Planning Board took no action on the measure, and members suggested MacGregor vet it through the Energy Committee before submitting it as a possible article for a future Town Meeting.

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