Portsmouth residents still seek clarity on solar ordinance

Council to host informational session June 13

By Jim McGaw
Posted 5/10/22

PORTSMOUTH — Some abutters to existing or proposed commercial solar facilities still want clarification on the town’s solar ordinance, despite a public hearing last fall during which the …

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Portsmouth residents still seek clarity on solar ordinance

Council to host informational session June 13

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Some abutters to existing or proposed commercial solar facilities still want clarification on the town’s solar ordinance, despite a public hearing last fall during which the Town Council made key changes to appease them.

Last November, following a three-hour public hearing in which 16 residents testified in favor of changes to Portsmouth’s solar ordinance, the council voted unanimously to make the following amendments:

• All medium- and large-scale solar facilities were barred from residential zones. 

• The original 50-foot minimal setback was increased to 100 feet when a solar array is adjacent to commercial or light industrial property; and to 150 feet when it’s next to property zoned residential.

• No more than 20 percent of the area covered by the solar panels can be on cleared woodlands, and the total area of cleared woodland cannot exceed 20,000 square feet. 

The following month, the council implemented a six-month moratorium on all new applications for medium- and large-scale ground-mounted solar facilities. The action was taken to give the council time to schedule a workshop with the Planning Board to formally review the solar ordinance, which was originally approved in December 2020 but roundly criticized by abutters.

“We have not had that workshop,” said Council President Kevin Aguiar, who placed the matter on Monday’s agenda for discussion. He also corrected a statement he had made at the November hearing — that those three ordinance changes were temporary.

“Those changes are permanent … I misspoke at the meeting,” Aguiar said.

Several council members, however, said there was no longer a need for the workshop because most residents were satisfied by the changes made in November.

“I think the changes we did enact addressed the biggest issues we had with the ordinance,” said council member Daniela Abbott. 

Edward Lopes, Jr., who chairs the Planning Board, said he can’t speak for the full board regarding the need for a workshop, but that members were “prepared to go forward with what we have.”

Several residents who attended Monday’s meeting, however, said they wanted a workshop because they still wanted clarification on the ordinance. 

“We were told there was (going to be) a forum, but there was no forum,” said Lark Roderigues, of West Passage Drive, adding she was otherwise pleased with the modifications made to the solar ordinance.

“I think people are really unclear on what the solar ordinance is going to be now. With all due respect, I was at every single meeting and I’m confused. It’s a huge issue all across the state, not just here,” she said.

David Howard, a Mariel Rose Drive resident who spoke remotely, agreed.

“I know you’re all suffering from solar fatigue. However, this doesn’t feel right,” Howard said, adding it seemed that abutters are being denied an opportunity to speak at a workshop. Many residents would disagree that the ordinance is fine as it stands, he said.

Larry Fitzmorris, of Kristen Court, said he also approved of the ordinance changes, but he thought the purpose of the six-month moratorium and workshop was to gather information for more potential changes.

After Town Planner Gary Crosby offered to present a bullet-point understanding of the solar ordinance, the council agreed to host a review of the ordinance and take questions during its June 13 meeting.

Any new changes to the solar ordinance would have to be vetted by the Planning Board and go before a council hearing again, Aguiar noted.

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