Peterborough Planning Board recommends petition zoning amendment

  • Peterborough Town House Staff file photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/14/2023 1:06:27 PM

The Peterborough Planning Board voted to recommend a petition zoning amendment for the ballot that asks voters to repeal the 100-foot setback requirement for single-family or duplex residential ground-mounted solar arrays and the screening requirement for single-family or duplex residential arrays. 

Greg Blake, owner of South Pack Solar, a Peterborough-based solar installer, put forth the petition amendment. At the public hearing on Monday, he said, “Essentially if you look at the original ordinance, I think there was an error in the sense that small solar ground mounts were lumped in with much larger ground mount structures like solar farms.”

Blake believes it’s reasonable to have more restrictions on solar farms, but thinks homeowners should have more flexibility and options with where they place small-scale, ground-mounted solar arrays. He said he has had a few occasions where it would make much more sense to put solar panels closer than 100 feet from the front property line, but zoning laws currently don’t allow it.

When placing solar panels, Blake said it’s important to put them in a location that produces lots of energy.

“This requirement, unless it’s changed, prevents a better location from being utilized,” he said, adding that people can choose to build a shed, tennis courts or put a wood pile 50 feet from their front property line. “Why not a small solar array?” 

“To make it harder to do those things – I don’t think that’s what the town wants,” said Blake. “We want to encourage this stuff, so why put more barriers in the way?”

Planning Board member Carl Staley believes it would be incongruous with the town’s commitment to going green not approve of the petition zoning amendment on the ballot, and that the Planning Board shouldn’t be telling the town they don’t want people installing ground-mounted solar arrays because of aesthetic concerns.

“If we don’t accept this and we’ve already voted as a town to do all we can do for alternative energy, and yet we still want people to be able to say, ‘I don’t like the way they look, so I don’t want to see them,’” he said. “You really can’t have both.”

Planning Board Chair Stephanie Hurley said she has solar panels on her roof and doesn’t believe ground-mounted solar arrays look nice. 

“It seems to me you’re trying to get rid of the impact to you of having to provide screening,” she said.

“Not every single house was built with the idea of using solar panels on their roof,” said Select Board representative Bill Taylor, adding that there are a lot of really old houses in town. “Essentially what the ordinance is saying as it is now – ‘It’s too bad in 1780 your house wasn’t oriented to take advantage of solar, but we have this ordinance that we want it to be pretty from the road, so sorry.’ I agree with Greg completely. That was targeting large-scale solar arrays.”

Planning Board alternate Gary Gorski said, “I think a solar panel looks as nice as anything else people put in their yards.

Dori Drachman, member of the Peterborough Renewable Energy Planning (PREP) team, said she supports the zoning amendment and believes “the renewable energy plan will be able to be implemented much more easily.” 

Six members of the board voted to recommend the petition zoning amendment, with Andy Dunbar, abstaining.  On the ballot, the article will state that the Planning Board recommends the proposed amendment. 

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