Discussion defining bylaws for ground-mounted solar arrays continue

  • The Board of Planning and Community Development and community members reviewed and discussed ground-mounted solar photovoltaic installation zoning bylaws on Wednesday. Standing, far left, Lori Kay; seated, Director of Planning and Community Development Eric Smith, recording secretary Sarah Schouler, Kathy Norton, Duane Truehart, Marc Morgan and Chairman David Small. Athol Daily News/Kathy Chaisson

  • An example of a large scale ground-mounted solar array. Thomas Pearson

Staff Writer
Published: 12/6/2019 9:55:27 PM
Modified: 12/6/2019 9:55:14 PM

ATHOL – The Board of Planning and Community Development and members of the community continued discussions on ground-mounted solar photovoltaic installation zoning bylaws that would allow some solar arrays, with restrictions.

The BPCD is working to amend the zoning bylaws for commercial solar arrays during a solar moratorium that was voted for by Athol residents at a special town meeting in July.

Planning and Community Development Director Eric Smith and residents Lori Kay and William Hogan presented their latest findings on solar capacities in Athol and proposals for design requirements standards.

The BPCD reviewed examples of protective design restrictions that they will qualify in the next phase, including setbacks, slopes, size, forest clearing, prime farmland, and the creation of an Overlay District only on land identified as brownfields and previously disturbed areas. According to Smith, the town is 78 percent Residential/Commercial zoned.

BPCD Chair David Small said “this is one scenario that allows us to have solar developers come with minimum disturbance to neighborhoods and streets.”

A summary of Massachusetts towns with solar installation restrictions approved by the Attorney General includes the town of Orange which has a size limitation of a maximum of 35 acres (for all equipment), and in Wendell, less than 10 acres. A bylaw in Orange restricts slopes to be 14 percent from the top to the bottom of the arrays and the town also requires a detailed storm water plan and habitat mitigation. In Royalston, the entire perimeter of the project must have a vegetated buffer dense enough to block the view from all abutting dwellings, and in Wendell, the bylaw minimizes visual impacts through landscaping and screening.

Small did an informal search of seven previously disturbed sites in Athol such as excavation areas and old gravel to consider for overlay zones. Sites currently in operation are Soltas Energy, Adams Farm; Kearage Solar, 5567 South Athol Rd.; Athol Solar Holdings, Templeton Road; Ameresco, Electric Street; and Borrego Solar, Partridgeville Road.

Approved sites but not constructed include Clean Focus Renewables, Thrower Road, and Sunpin Solar, Conant Road. The report concludes that with inclusion of these 14 sites, “Athol would be providing enough sites to meet not only the residential energy usage (21.8 MW), but also the commercial energy usage within Athol,” noting that residential and commercial usage is virtually the same. Hogan reported that 33 million kilowatt hours are used per year in Athol, or 7,000 kW hours per household x 4829 households.

Smith said the site plan requirements can be changed. Small said they are good bylaws out there for solar requirements. The BPCD will be submitting a series of warrant articles to go onto the fall 2020 Town Meeting warrant and must be finalized and written up by Labor Day.

Small said Thursday, “we’re really trying to balance the need for the community with the landowners’ rights and our rural landscape.”

The next meeting will be held on Jan. 8, 2020 in the Town Hall.

Kathy Chaisson can be reached at 978-249-3535 ext. 656, or kchaisson@atholdailynews.com.

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