State Grants Encourage Solar Bylaw Changes in Western Massachusetts
It's annual town meeting season in Western Massachusetts and proposed zoning changes for renewable energy projects are appearing on town warrants across the region. In some communities state incentives are providing a push for solar bylaw amendments in particular.
Jeff Eiseman chairs the small rural town of Pelham's zoning board. He says residents this weekend passed two bylaw changes that would make the town eligible for a state Green Communities Grant. The grants, for anything from bike racks to solar power projects, start at 125,000 dollars. To qualify Eiseman says one of Pelham's new bylaws allows for ground-mounted solar arrays of up to one acre.
"There was a deliberate decision that if we had to choose between solar and wind we wanted solar. And I know that those who are involved think that there are major problems with wind even if you're committed to get off fossil fuel energy."
Meg Lusardi directs the state's Green Communities Program. She says Pelham's bylaw is an example of an important zoning principle -- it's called "as of right sighting."
"You provide in the bylaw basic procedures generally related to health and safety that a project must meet. And that there's no special permit required. If a project comes in that meets all of the requirements in the bylaw that means it is allowed to proceed."
Hadley recently passed a similar law - although officials there say they aren't ready to seek grants this year. Representatives of Plainfield and Williamsburg, say they too are working to gain Green Community status by adopting solar bylaws. But they say their bylaw changes won't be voted on until after this year's grant deadline.