Westborough officials discuss potential solar panel bylaw
By Bonnie Adams, Government Editor
Westborough – As heating and cooling costs continue to rise for homeowners and businesses, more are starting to explore the option of utilizing solar panels. In Westborough alone, three businesses have installed large-scale so-called “solar farms” over the past year. The town's officials don's want to discourage that but do want to ensure, they say, that large-scale ground mounted installations don's impact public safety or scenic, natural or historic resources.
In order to address these issues, the Planning Board has been discussing a potential bylaw that would set some standards. The board approved language for the bylaw at its Aug. 28 meeting: the next step will be a public hearing on Tues. Sept. 18 for residents to share their thoughts on the matter. Ultimately the bylaw will then go before the voters at the town's October Special Town Meeting (STM) for approval. (The exact date of the STM has not yet been determined.)
The bylaw specifically addresses “Large-Scale Ground-Mounted Solar Photovoltaic Installations.” As described in the proposed draft, that is defined as a solar photovoltaic system that is structurally mounted on the ground and is not roof-mounted. It has a minimum nameplate capacity of 250 kW DC or a solar installation that covers at least 1000 square feet.
According to the tenets of the proposed bylaw, as with other types of construction, the owner must first obtain a building permit and undergo a site plan review. All plans and maps must also be approved by a professional engineer who is licensed to practice in Massachusetts. The bylaw also has requirements owners must follow if they choose to stop using the solar installation.
At the Aug. 28 meeting, the members discussed if the language should be slanted more to reflect aesthetics rather than the amount of kilowatt power.
Brian Bush noted that the board had discussed this matter at an earlier meeting.
“We need to look at this in terms of “mass” – this is going to be a source of energy for “us” as whole,” he said.
He added that he did not have a “burning opinion” if a resident chose to install solar panel in their “big back yard that no one can see.”
“But we need to give the selectmen some guidance on this,” he said. “And if it does go into an industrial zone, it will need to be approved by a site plan hearing.”
“When you tie this to technology, it's growing leaps and bounds. We might be making this bylaw obsolete before it's even approved,” member Mark Silverberg said. “But it's not the technology people are opposed to, it's the aesthetic.”
Joanne Mallozzi noted that the town's proposed bylaw closely mirrored the state's description of large scale installations.
“We need to have benchmarks and boundaries,” she added. “I feel comfortable because the state has all of this in their descriptions.”
“We'se going into new waters – we'se trying to cover everything comfortably,” she added.
The Sept. 18 public hearing will be at 7 p.m. in the Forbes Municipal Building, Suite 23. The bylaw will also be on the town's website, www.town.westborough.ma.us before the public hearing.
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