Planning Board looks to amend solar panel bylaw

Roof and ground-mounted solar energy facilities could be permitted through amendment

A collecton of solar panels in Pepperell

PEPPERELL – The Planning Board is looking to offer the community more options for access to solar energy through a zoning bylaw amendment.

The board held a public hearing on Aug. 12 to discuss an addition to the town’s Table of Principal Uses. According to Lisa Davis, the board’s adviser, the board is looking to allow roof and ground-mounted solar energy structures. The town only allows those elements as an accessory use to a resident or business’s primary structure.

“We have had requests from some people in town that want to lease their farm for a solar farm but that is currently not allowed under the town’s zoning bylaw,” Davis said in an email. “This bylaw amendment would allow for medium and large ground mounted facilities as a principal use subject to the receipt of a Planning Board special permit.”

Any roof-mounted solar energy structures would need to follow the same height restrictions as other roof additions and cannot cause ice or snow gathered on the structure to fall into a porch, stairway or pedestrian walkway. They must also still allow emergency access to the roof and smoke ventilation.

Small, medium and large-scale ground-mounted solar structures would also have to follow the same height restrictions as accessory buildings. Small and medium-scale structures would have to follow the same setback requirements for accessory structures in whatever zoning district they’re built in, with medium and large-scale structures being allowed limited clearing of natural vegetation on property as long as it doesn’t greatly impact natural vegetation and screening between abutting properties. Large-scale ground-mounted structures must have a minimum of three contiguous acres of upland areas, a depth of at least 50 feet for front and side-yard setbacks and a depth of at least 30 feet for rear-yard setbacks.

Owners of medium and large-scale ground-mounted solar panels will be responsible for maintenance of the structure and should provide a copy of their operation and maintenance plan, electrical schematic and site plan to Fire Chief Brian Borneman. If the medium or large-scale structure has stopped working or the owner wants it removed, he or she has 150 days to remove the solar panels and notify the Planning Board.

The board is looking to bring this amendment to the fall town meeting, where it would need a two-thirds majority vote and approval from the Attorney General to pass.