To the editor:
At Town Meeting, Westport will have the opportunity to vote on a new Solar Bylaw. The town needs a bylaw, both to give potential solar developers a clear set of guidelines, and to protect the interests of residents. It was written with input from the Planning Board, Energy Committee, Economic Development Task Force, and Board of Health, and based on the state’s model bylaw and input from similar towns. There were two public hearings, which elicited useful proposed changes, particularly for agricultural land. While this bylaw (or any bylaw) can’t please everyone, I believe it strikes a good balance.
There are a few aspects that may need a bit of explaining.
1. The definition of a small-scale installation is stated in terms of land area rather than solar output. The reason is that the output of solar panels keeps changing (panels of a given size are getting more efficient). So the kilowatt rating of an installation is less relevant than acreage when it comes to zoning. An abutter wouldn’t care how much electricity was produced, but might care how big the installation is and how close it comes to the property line.
2. People owning small lots might feel they have fewer options than those with larger lots, but that’s how zoning works. However, those with smaller lots would not be shut out of green energy opportunities. If they can’t put panels on their roof, there are alternatives, such as solar community farms or “neighborhood” systems that provide ways to buy into green electricity without installing on your own land. In addition, the bylaw stipulates that the Planning Board can issue exemptions if screening is adequate.
3. Roof-mounted installations have fewer restrictions than ground mount systems. That‘s because roof installations, built parallel to the roof line, have much less visual impact than ground mount systems. Roofs are already there, so no new structure is required – therefore making it more favorable from a zoning perspective. It’s true that the proposed 10-foot maximum height of a ground installation might be too restrictive, and I’d like to see it increased to at least 12 feet. The property setbacks might also be too large: it would be good to see a balance between height and area, such that if the height is minimized the setback requirements can be reduced.
It is important to have an official policy so that commercial solar companies who would like to establish solar installations in Westport have a clear set of guidelines, while residential installations are reasonably regulated. We want to encourage both residential and commercial solar development. If Westport wants new sources of business revenue, it would be hard to find a cleaner or more beneficial industry than solar.
Westport Energy Committee