Northborough Town Meeting approves solar farm moratorium
By John Swinconeck, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Anyone looking to install a new, large-scale solar panel system in Northborough will have to wait at least six months, after voters approved a moratorium on such facilities at the Oct. 28 Special Town Meeting (STM).
The moratorium, passed by a wide margin, gives the Planning Board until the annual April Town Meeting to draft bylaws regulating so-called solar farms in town.
According to Greg Roody, who petitioned for the article, it is very difficult for Massachusetts communities to regulate solar projects without overriding local ordinances. The “real purpose” of
“A yes vote is not anti-solar,” Roody told residents at the STM, adding that he was considering installing solar panels on the roof of his home.
The article was proposed after Roody's abutter, Ziad Ramadan, expressed interest in building a large network of solar panels on residential property. Ramadan's proposal is grandfathered for three years and would be unaffected by a moratorium, according to Planning Board Chairman Rick Leif.
Roody has acknowledged that Ramadan's proposal would be unaffected. However, at the Oct. 23 Planning Board hearing, Roody said he feared that other, similar large solar facilities, would result in forested areas in residential neighborhoods being raised and replaced with a graded and filled space and surrounded by razor wire.
Such facilities, which appear more industrial in appearance, are “not appropriate for residential areas,” Roody told the Planning Board.
According to the warrant article, it is “crucial that the Town act now to establish a temporary moratorium on the land use and the construction of structures,” as well as “the issuance of special building permits” or large-scale solar photovoltaic systems, also known as solar farms.
The Zoning Board of Appeals did not offer a recommendation on the article, but the Planning Board voted unanimously to endorse it after the Oct. 23 hearing.
All rooftop solar installations would still be allowed under the moratorium, according to Roody. So would small, ground-based solar arrays that generate less than 250 kilowatts. Those wishing to install solar panels for home use would be unaffected.
The existing solar array on Milk Street, which generates 245 kilowatts with 850 solar panels, will not be affected.
Speaking in opposition at Town Meeting, resident Richard Aronovitz complained that regulations in the town of Milford made it “uneconomical” for him to install rooftop solar panels on commercial property there. Solar power is only a viable money maker because of state tax incentives, Aronovitz said.
“These things do not create a lot of revenue,” Aronovitz said.
Zoning requirements such as expensive fencing and setbacks could become too costly to a landowner, and a disincentive to developing solar power facilities.
Aronovitz called the Northborough article “an attempt to stop solar development disguised as a temporary moratorium” driven by a “not in my backyard” mentality by homeowners don’t want to see neighboring, rural land developed.
Equipment at solar farms would not be taxed, though an owner of such a facility could make a voluntary payment to the town in lieu of taxes, according to Northborough Finance Director Cheri L. Cox.
Planning Board member Leslie Harrison said that she was “very pro-solar,” however a moratorium was “pro-prudent planning” that gives her board time to put together a proper zoning ordinance.
The Planning Board is already working on drafting language for an ordinance regulating solar farms for the April Town Meeting.
The moratorium affects the town's bylaws, and required a two-thirds majority in order to pass. It expires May 1, 2014, and the attorney general's office will not allow an extension, according to Roody.
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