Solar bylaw set for town meeting

SOUTHWICK – The Planning Board is moving forward with a new solar bylaw that they hope will be on the spring Town Meeting Warrant.
The board held a public hearing on the topic this week, which was attended by just one resident – Marcus Phelps – who commended the group’s work.
“It’s a good bylaw,” said Phelps, the former town planner.
Phelps did question the allowance of large scale installations in the AC zone, and suggested allowing large scale solar in residential zones on properties with large acreage, which was prohibited in the proposed bylaw.
Phelps also pointed out what he thought could be a problem with the language regarding decommissioning of installations. The bylaw called for the property to be returned to “a forest” upon decommissioning.
“I’d suggest you add ‘or a use allowed in the zone’,” Phelps said.
After much discussion on Phelps’ suggestions, the board decided to make the change regarding the AC zone, but did not change its stance on residential.
Planning Board Vice-chairperson Roz Terry said she researched the bylaws of several area towns, including Ludlow and Agawam, to write what the board believed was appropriate for Southwick.
Right now, photovoltaic solar installations are allowed statewide by right and it is up to individual communities to create bylaws.
“With no bylaw in place right now, the building inspector would have to decide whether an installation would fit (a property),” said Terry. “This gives us a way to issue a special permit and addresses abandonment and decommission, and that was a big deal to me.”
Southwick’s bylaw is written using a square-footage measurement, versus kilowatts. This becomes important when setting fees, which the board agreed to coincide the solar fees with the building inspector fees, which is 40 cents per square-foot for new construction.
Town Planner Alan Slessler said he consulted with other towns and compared their installations with the Southwick fees. He said Agawam charges a $30 fee plus $5 per panel and Easthampton has a fee of $10 per 1,000 feet.
Slessler said the fees were about the same using the different formulas.
The board agreed to send a request to place the bylaws on the warrant.

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