Thanks to the Green Communities Act, Massachusetts is working towards its goal of installing 250 megawatts of solar energy by 2017 and 400 megawatts generated by 2020. In order to get this done, the Act put in place renewable energy credits and incentives to encourage residential and business solar energy improvements. Of course this is in addition to Federal incentives. They also required utility companies to buya certain percentage of their energy from renewable resources.
As interest for solar energy generation grows among western Massachusetts communities, cities and towns are adopting solar bylaws in an effort to guide the development of large-scale solar projects. Some towns have even prefaced their solar bylaws by stating that they were adopted to promote the development of large-scale solar arrays.
Large-scale, or commercial, photovoltaic solar arrays are usually ground-mounted. It is these types of systems that are typically addressed in municipal solar bylaws. The only regulation regarding building mounted solar systems is the requirement to get a building permit, as far as I can tell. Hadley, which has the lengthiest solar bylaw that I have reviewed, restricts the height of roof-mounted solar panels for when they need to be tilted to get the most sunlight, but that is about as far as it goes.
The respective solar bylaws passed by the different towns in western Massachusetts vary in their scope. However, most municipal solar bylaws include provisions for large-scale solar arrays to require a maintenance plan, notification of the electric company, setback requirements, design standards, safety and environmental standards, a financial surety, and a decommissioning plan for when the solar array will not longer be used.
How a large-scale solar array is defined could also vary.
Belchertown, for example, passed a solar bylaw that only addresses commercial solar arrays with a capacity of 250 kilowatts or more. The town of Granby passed a solar bylaw that also defined ground-mounted solar photovoltaic systems with a capacity of 250 kilowatts as large-scale.
Hadley defined a large-scale project by looking at how much land is utilized. In Hadley, any project that takes up 1 to 10 acres is considered a large-scale solar array. Anything below one acre is considered a small-scale project.
The town of Pelham, in their proposed solar bylaw, defined a large-scale project by combining the capacity and the amount of land used for the array. According to news reports, their definition was amended to only allow for a maximum 1 acre of land. The capacity of a large-scale solar array in Pelham was set at 10 kilowatts or greater.
Some of the language in solar bylaws may be inconsistent with state law. Hadley’s bylaw, for example, restricts where a commercial solar array can be sited. Granby’s solar bylaw has similar restrictions. However, according to Mass General Laws, “No zoning ordinance or by-law shall prohibit or unreasonably regulate the installation of solar energy systems or the building of structures that facilitate the collection of solar energy, except where necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare.”
Recently passed zoning bylaw changes will need to be approved by the commonwealth before they take effect. It is important to check with your town before proceeding with a solar project at your home or on your property.
Call Michael Seward at 413-531-7129 if you are looking to buy or sell a home in western Massachusetts. I am a member of the National Association of REALTORS® Green Resource Council and have earned NAR’s GREEN designation.
This short video of explains the state solar benefits