Portsmouth declines to issue moratorium on solar facilities

Abutters leave council chambers angry

By Jim McGaw
Posted 6/28/22

PORTSMOUTH — Despite pleas from local residents who live near approved — or once-proposed — commercial solar arrays, the Town Council Monday night declined to enforce …

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Portsmouth declines to issue moratorium on solar facilities

Abutters leave council chambers angry

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Despite pleas from local residents who live near approved — or once-proposed — commercial solar arrays, the Town Council Monday night declined to enforce another six-month moratorium on new applications for medium and large ground-mounted solar energy systems (SES).

Discussion and possible action on a moratorium was placed on the agenda following a “Solar 101” discussion on June 13, during which Town Planner Gary Crosby explained the town’s solar ordinance, one that has left many residents confused and frustrated. Some residents say the ordinance doesn’t give enough protections to residential property owners, and that its language is ambiguous.

After hearing from several residents on Monday — many of them familiar faces whenever solar comes up as a meeting topic — council member Leonard Katzman made a motion to approve the six-month moratorium. His motion failed, however, because it did not receive a second.

“We won’t forget this,” one woman said as she left the council chambers with the others.

The council amended the town’s zoning ordinance in December 2020 to provide for the regulation of SES locally, a move that led to an influx of applications from developers wanting to install ground-mounted SES. The ordinance was amended in November 2021 to provide more controls over location, minimum setbacks and site design requirements for medium and large SES.

The next month, the council implemented a six-month moratorium on all new applications for medium and large ground-mounted SES, with the intention of giving the council time to schedule a workshop with the Planning Board to formally review the solar ordinance.

That workshop never happened, however. At a meeting in May, several council members said there was no longer a need for the workshop because most residents were satisfied by the changes made in November 2021.  

Before discussion began on Monday, Council Vice President Linda Ujifusa, sitting in as president in the absence of Kevin Aguiar, said Town Solicitor Kevin Gavin had advised the panel that members should not engage in conversation with speakers. The council would only vote afterwards, she said.

Residents speak out

Nevertheless, several residents raised concerns they still had about the ordinance.  

Lark Roderigues, of West Passage Drive, said without a moratorium, developers will have a “window of opportunity” to install SES in town. “If we have 14-, 16-, 12-acre lots, they’re going to knock on our doors,” she said.

Added David Howard, of Mariel Rose Drive, “There’s a lot of developers out there practically salivating at the prospect of building commercial solar arrays.”

Also commenting was Richard Munch of Union Street an abutter to Nimali Power’s proposed large-scale commercial solar facility at 2340 West Main Road that was denied in March. He said the remaining parcels in Portsmouth where larger commercial SES could still go have residential homes all around them.

“You’re looking at a lot of residential houses that surround these properties. These things aren’t tucked away in Portsmouth where people aren’t going to see them,” Munch said.

Siobhan Thurston, of Almy-Thurston Farm on Union Street, urged the council to approve a moratorium. She warned the council that farmers may have to turn to solar if they don’t receive more support from the community.

“I ask you to consider the farmer, who’s been put out of here,” Thurston said. “If I need to diversify, and have six and a half acres, I’m going to consider solar. And, if it’s bordered by two streets of people living there, maybe you should have come and supported my farm. It’s been here since 1683.”

After the motion for a moratorium failed, Ujifusa told residents they were more than welcome to submit another agenda item to discuss the solar ordinance further.

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