Enfield Revisits Solar Protocol

Thursday, January 07, 2016
Enfield — Members of the town’s Energy Committee are taking a second crack at writing a warrant article to ease restrictions on solar arrays in Enfield.

A public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, where the Planning Board will discuss whether the article will be voted on at Town Meeting in March.

The new article classifies “community net-metered” solar arrays as those that collect energy used to offset the energy consumption of a community of customers. If it’s passed at Town Meeting, community arrays will be allowed in each of Enfield’s zoning districts by special exception except for Enfield Village, Enfield Center and the Conservation District.

“I think it’s a balanced view that allows us to try to go forward and allows some solar to happen,” Energy Committee member Kimberly Quirk said Wednesday.

She said the focus on community arrays and use of special exceptions sets this warrant article apart from previous attempts, and adds a layer of community involvement when a project is proposed.

The Energy Committee failed to get a more expansive article on the warrant in November, when the Planning Board rejected an earlier proposal by a vote of 6-1. That article classified solar arrays into three categories, including commercial, and would have allowed arrays to be built in certain districts without Zoning Board review.

That earlier article met opposition, however, because the Planning Board associated it with former Energy Committee Chairman Philip Vermeer’s failed attempt to build a 100-kilowatt solar array along Main Street. The article would have allowed projects like his to go forward without review.

After voting down the earlier article, the Planning Board warned the Energy Committee that further attempts to focus on the Main Street project “may not get Planning Board nor town approval,” according to meeting minutes.

Quirk said the new warrant article addresses many of the town’s concerns. By requiring a special exception for solar arrays, she said, neighbors and the Zoning Board still have the chance to weigh in on projects, but the conditions for approval aren’t as tough compared to those required for acquiring a variance.

In Enfield’s zoning ordinance, special exceptions allow the Zoning Board to consider a site’s “appropriateness,” or whether a project is a fit for the district and surrounding habitat. Variances, however, require five conditions be met, including that the variance be of “benefit to the public interest” and that denial of a variance would “result in necessary hardship to the owner seeking it.”

The Energy Committee also chose not to include regulations on commercial and residential solar projects, which simplifies the article, Quirk said. The Planning Board was ready to begin drafting its own ordinance in November when the Energy Committee offered to try again, said John Kluge, the Selectboard’s representative to the Planning Board.

Because the article’s language was drafted on Wednesday, Kluge said he didn’t have time to form an opinion yet. He said the Planning Board would like to accept a solar article this year, and hoped the Energy Committee’s proposal strikes the right balance.

A public hearing on the article will be held at 7 p.m. on Jan. 13 at the Public Works Facility, 74 Lockehaven Road. The article’s language can be found at www.enfield.nh.us.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com.

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