Editorial: Too much of a good thing

Posted 3/9/19

Hard lessons learned from an avalanche of solar applications appear to have produced the guidebook that Westport so sorely needs to cope with a growth industry whose appetite for woods and farmland …

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Editorial: Too much of a good thing

Posted

Hard lessons learned from an avalanche of solar applications appear to have produced the guidebook that Westport so sorely needs to cope with a growth industry whose appetite for woods and farmland knows no bounds.

Neighbors Tiverton and Little Compton, which are grappling with solar rules of their own, would be wise to take note of the Westport experience. At a rate of what seems like one every week or two, would-be solar farmers are showing up at Town Hall with sketches for solar arrays stretching across 20 acres and much more. Neighbors are appalled.

The appeal of the business model is evident — decent income from land that may not be suited for much else, next to zero cost for labor or maintenance, and, once built, little in the way of actual work required.

It has fallen to Westport’s Planning Board, whose meetings stretch to four hours and more, to make sense of it all.

Creating this bylaw has been a challenge for these planners who are rightly torn.

On the one hand, they recognize that solar energy is one vital response to the challenges of a warming world. Every town must do its part.

But they are loathe to stand by and watch as woodlands are leveled, and wildlife and views destroyed.

It will certainly evolve, but the bylaw they have drafted offers a measure of reason and compromise.

Heavy emphasis is placed on protecting views, both those of neighbors and passersby on roads and the water. Those views are what set one place, one town, apart from every other and they must not be ruined lightly. To that end, buffer zones and setbacks are beefed up.

The rules set limits on the clearing allowed. Applicants are already bristling but the town should not bend here.

And they reinforce protections against water runoff. Old drainage routes can go haywire when trees and vegetation are clear-cut, as those living near one Westport solar farm have already discovered.

These rules won’t make everyone happy but they are an excellent start.

Solar should be welcomed but within most carefully considered limits.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.