Peterborough considers solar ordinance

  • Peterborough Planning Board Chair Ivy Vann discusses a proposed solar ordinance on Monday night.​​​​​​ Staff photo by Ashley Saari

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Peterborough Planning Board is advancing to the public hearing process with an ordinance that would regulate solar energy systems in town.

The Planning Board tasked a sub-committee with creating the new ordinance, which provides regulations for systems up to 1 megawatt of power, explained Community Development Director Peter Throop.

“We capped it at 1 megawatt, because we know what 1 megawatt looks like, because we can go out and see it,” said Throop, referring to a system already built in Peterborough on the town’s sewer lagoons. 

Throop said that the town has experienced interest in utility-sized systems, and the Planning Board had expressed interest in getting an official ordinance “on the books” within this year to regulate them. 

“We have had an interest in these systems, and we want to encourage solar,” agreed Planning Chair Ivy Vann on Monday, during a public workshop on the proposed ordinance. “We are ‘Greenerborough’.”

The proposed ordinance would allow roof- or building-mounted systems in all districts, regardless of primary building use, upon obtaining a building permit. They must comply with building and fire codes, but are not otherwise restricted in the size or amount of energy production. 

Originally, the proposed ordinance would allow roof-mounted systems to be exempt from building height standards, but the Planning Board discussed the issue of solar panels set up on mounts, referred to as “lollypops”. 

Ultimately, the board agreed that before the ordinance moved forward to a public hearing stage, there should be some restriction – Planning Board member Rich Clark suggested 10 feet – on roof systems mounted on poles. Over that, and the matter would need to be reviewed by the Planning Board.

For ground systems, they will comply with building setbacks from lot lines, and to the “greatest extent possible” shall be selected to minimize soil disturbance and grading. They also shall be located to minimize visual impacts to abutting properties and the road and have anti-reflective coats.

Residential solar for multiple units and non-residential solar are limited to 300 kilowatts, and are exempts from lot coverage and impervious surface standards. They’re required to be located in the rear of the property when feasible and shall provide screening to minimize visual impacts. They cannot be sited in front of a building unless adequately screened. 

Small-scale enterprise solar energy systems may be up to 1 megawatt, and the footprint shall not be larger than five acres. The total disturbed area, including tree-free buffer around the solar field cannot be greater than 18 acres. 

The ordinance allows enterprise systems to be approved administratively if they apply with the general standards of the ordinance, the site doesn’t require forest clearance or site grading, and the site plan includes property stormwater management and soil stabilization plans. 

The ordinance requires owners remove the system in its entirety within 120 days of discontinuance or abandonment of the system, and must provide a performance guarantee to the town. 

After deciding to add a height restriction for roof-mounted “lollypop” panels, the board indicated they were satisfied with the ordinance and ready to present it to the public during its next meeting on March 12 at a public hearing. 

The board must hold at least one public hearing on new proposed ordinances. If, after receiving public feedback, it decides to make substantive changes to the ordinance, it must hold a second hearing. If, following the hearings, the board approves the ordinance for ballot, the residents of Peterborough will have the opportunity to vote on the measure in May.