Photo by Rich DionneTony Connors of the Westport Energy Committee, seen here Friday in front of a rooftop solar installation at Westport Point, called the solar by-law vote outcome disappointing but said that in the long run it may result in a better set of regulations.
Westport planners vow to be back next spring with their proposed set of solar rules after failing to win enough support last Tuesday to put the by-law on the books.
Article 11, the "Solar Energy Systems" by-law, won a majority of votes at last week's Special Town Meeting but the 68 for, 49 opposed vote failed to get the two-thirdss majority needed to become part of the town code.
After the small crowd raced through he first ten questions, approving all in less than 20 minutes, the solar question was the only one to stir significant debate.
"Perhaps worse would have been for it to get the two-thirds majority but just barely." That might have produced more lingering opposition.
"We will come back in the spring," he said. "We have six months to come up with something even better, not that much different but perhaps a bit more relaxed."
By relaxed, he said rules governing side-yard setbacks and system height might need another look.
Critics, among them Brian Corey, focused on these issues at last week's meeting. Mr. Corey said the ordinance's restrictions make it all but impossible for people with small lots to fit solar ground installations onto their property and said he 1,000 square foot limit for so-called household systems is too small to provide the electrical power a household needs. The rules, as proposed "prohibit reasonable use of photovoltaic power," he said.
Another speaker suggested that the proposed rules favor parts of town where lots are bigger.
Mr. Connors said he thinks that compromise is likely on matters such as the 50-foot minimum side yard requirement and 10-foot height limit.
But he also said that the reality of owning a small lot is that not all properties are big enough to hold solar systems.
"My own property is not big enough," he said. "Some lots just don't have the size to fit garages either." He said that there are still solar energy possibilities for people who live on small lots. "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."
He also said numbers tossed about at the meeting regarding the amount of electricity that houses consume were greatly overstated and that small systems can be adequate to meet typical power demand.
Mr. Connors said he suspects that most who voted no shared concerns expressed by the Finance Committee which declined to endorse the by-laws, arguing that people needed more time to learn about and digest the proposals. The matter ought to have been left to the regular town meeting in the spring, some said.
Although there were two public hearings on the solar by-law proposal, Mr. Connors said he understands that contention. There will be more public meetings leading up to next spring's town meeting — "We have a new six-month window.".
"The encouraging thing that I came away with was that there did not seem to be much objection to the by-laws themselves," he added.
The rules were created out of Planning Board concern that solar systems are not addressed in the town's zoning codes.
The intent, Mr. Connors said, is to strike a balance between the desire to "encourage solar energy and good clean industry while protecting homeowners" from inappropriate systems next door.