Survey: Residents favor renewable energy, but don’t want large scale solar arrays in their neighborhood

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

Staff Writer
Published: 10/8/2019 9:55:13 PM

ATHOL – The final results are in for the Athol Zoning Survey regarding large ground-mounted commercial solar arrays. A total of 171 people took part in the survey, with 154 complete responses collected.

The survey was undertaken by the Athol Department of Planning and Development in an effort to include the community at large. According to Town Planner Eric Smith, the Board of Planning and Community Development is working to develop amendments to the existing ground-mounted solar photovoltaic installations zoning bylaws during the solar moratorium period that was approved by voters 180-2 at a special town meeting in July.

Smith said 93 percent of the respondents indicated that Town Management and the BPCD represent the best way for the town to address the concerns they have in updating Athol’s Zoning Bylaws related to the large scale ground-mounted commercial solar arrays.

The following is an overview of the 15-question survey:

Q1: Do you agree with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ desire to produce more electricity with renewable energy sources in an effort to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels?

Agree, 75.60% (127); Disagree, 8.33% (14); neither agree nor disagree, 16.07% (27).

Q2: Of all the renewable resources available, which do you endorse for this area?

Solar power, 26.22% (43); wind power, 33.54% (55); hydropower, 28.66% (47); all of the above 39.63% (65); none of the above, 8.54% (14); not sure, 8.54% (14).

Q3: Do you or your neighbors currently have rooftop or ground-mounted solar panels?

You, 4.17% (7); neighbors, 38.10% (64); both, 8.93% (15); neither, 48.81% (82).

Q4: Do you agree with the Town’s current exemption of commercial solar projects on rooftops and parking lots from the site plan review permitting process?

Agree, 61.21% (101); disagree, 18.79% (31); neither agree nor disagree, 20.00% (33).

Q5: Currently 78% of all land in Athol is zoned “Residential C.” Do you agree or disagree with allowing large ground-mounted commercial solar arrays to be sited in Residential C zoned areas?

Disagree strongly, 85.35% (134); agree, 5.73% (9); strongly agree, 3.82% (6); neither agree nor disagree, 5.10% (8).

Q6: What are your major concerns, if any, in the placement of large ground-mounted commercial solar array developments in residentially zoned, forested, or scenic view areas? (Select all that apply.)

Visually unsightly – able to see them from roadways; loss of scenic vistas; ridge lines, etc., 78.26% (126); proximity to neighborhoods; effect on property values, 75.16% (121), runoff/storm water control, 67.08% (108); clear cutting of forest land; loss of prime agricultural areas; effects on wetlands, streams and lakes, 91.30% (147); wildlife and environmental impact, 85.71% (138); none of the above, 0.62% (1).

Q7: Given that Athol is primarily zoned Residential C, do you approve or disapprove of clear cutting large areas of forest land specifically for the use of ground-mounted commercial solar arrays in residential neighborhoods, ridge lines and scenic view areas?

Strongly disapprove, 92.50% (148); neither approve nor disapprove, 1.88% (3); agree, 1.88% (3); strongly agree, 3.75% (6).

Q8: If a large-scale ground-mounted commercial solar installation was planned in your neighborhood, would you be concerned?

Concerned, 91.88% (147); not concerned, 8.13% (13).

Q9: What, if any, are your experiences with the development of large ground-mounted commercial solar array installations in Athol? (Select all that apply.)

Abutter (neighboring property), 20.13% (32); property owner (of commercial solar project), 0.63% (1); contractor/business owner (involved with development of commercial solar project(s)), 1.26% (2); interested/concerned citizen, 74.21% (118); all of the above, 4.40% (7); none at all, 15.72% (25).

Q10: Are you familiar with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts SMART (Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target) solar array development incentive credit program?

Yes, 23.84% (36); no, 45.70 (69); somewhat, 30.46% (46).

Q11: If yes: Do you feel the SMART program has been effective in regulating how large ground-mounted commercial solar arrays are sited?

Strongly disagree, 45.61% (52); agree, 5.26% (6); neither agree nor disagree, 47.37% (54); strongly agree, 1.75% (2).

Q12: What changes would you like to see to the solar siting process of such large commercial solar projects, both at the Town Zoning Level and the State Credit System – SMART program? (Choose all that apply.)

Better zoning laws governing large ground-mounted commercial solar arrays (especially in residential and scenic view areas), 76.97% (117); better communication with communities on both the local and state level, 61.84% (94); more focus on developing “brownsites,” parking lot canopies, existing commercial or industrial buildings, and municipal owned sites first, 78.95% (120).

Q13: Should Athol’s zoning encourage large ground-mounted commercial solar installations to focus on already developed sites first, rather than forested areas, ridge lines, scenic view sites, etc.? (Select all that apply.)

Former gravel pits, landfills, previously developed sites, commercial or industrial buildings, 54.25% (83); no, 9.80% (15); no opinion, 1.96% (3); parking lots, rooftops on commercial sites, town owned sites to be developed, 54.25% (83); yes all, 82.35% (126).

Q14: What do you think is the best way to address any concerns you may have in updating Athol’s zoning bylaws related to such large scale ground-mounted commercial solar arrays? (Select all that apply.)

Town management and the Board of Planning and Community Development to improve zoning bylaws, 92.67%, (139); no concerns, 5.33% (8).

Q:15: Based on your previous responses, what additional comments/opinions do you wish to share related to zoning of large ground-mounted commercial solar arrays in Athol?

No further comment, 75.17% (109). Twenty percent (29) responded with comments.

The survey, including charts and graphs, will soon be available on the Town of Athol website at www.athol-ma.gov.

The Town of Athol also recently conducted a parking survey to collect residents’ thoughts about parking in Athol. Results of the study will be presented during a Downtown Parking Management Plan Open House Event on Tuesday, Oct. 29 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Athol Public Library.


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