Voters to decide on two solar bylaws at Town Meeting

Apr 19, 2022

Two items tackling solar projects in Wareham are up for votes at Monday night’s Town Meeting.

The influx of solar development in town has sparked a slew of proposed bylaw changes meant to curb, or at least slow down new proposals over the past year.

Wareham residents voted at the June 12, 2021 Town Meeting in favor of a solar bylaw that included several restrictions on new solar project construction. The proposed bylaw would have required solar facilities to be located on land parcels between 3 and 10 acres that have been cleared of trees for at least five years.

Attorney General Maura Healey slapped down that bylaw in March, saying it violated the state’s “prohibition against unreasonable regulations of solar uses.”

Now, two other solar bylaws are up for votes on Monday. Each article aims to address the stream of new solar proposals in a different way.

One, created by the Solar Bylaw Review Committee in a months-long process, offers several updates to the town’s solar regulations. The committee has rewritten and expanded a portion of the town’s zoning bylaws in an attempt to balance the rights of local residents with the responsible development of solar projects.

Changes to the bylaw include rules on the amount of earth solar developers must leave when preparing a site; size limitations on large-scale, ground-mounted solar projects; the encouragement of development on land that’s already disturbed and other new regulations.

A key part of the solar bylaw committee’s work, representative Nancy McHale has said, was reaching out to both members of the Wareham community and industry experts. If the new bylaw changes are too restrictive, the attorney general may easily deny them. If the rules aren’t clear, solar developers might not comply with the specifications the committee had in mind.

There’s a lot to the proposed solar bylaw, and the committee itself has been meeting weekly for months to craft its proposal. More details on the bylaw can be found in the full text of the bylaw in the special town meeting agenda on the town’s website.

While the committee has proposed a host of changes to the town’s zoning bylaws, another town resident has put forward another idea on solar projects in town — a blanket moratorium on large-scale solar projects lasting one year.

The resident who wrote the citizen’s petition, Annie Hayes, said at a recent Select Board meeting that the proposed moratorium wouldn’t necessarily conflict with the committee’s proposed bylaw changes, which some town officials have been worried about.

Hayes detailed why she proposed a moratorium when there’s already a bylaw in the works meant to combat new solar developments.

“The first reason is not to obstruct Article S15, the newly proposed solar bylaw advanced by the solar committee,” Hayes said at the meeting, “but to protect the bylaw should it pass from the unknown decisions of the attorney general and the Supreme Judicial Court.”

Some Select Board members said they were concerned that the moratorium may be easier for the average town voter to understand than the detailed solar bylaw updates proposed by the committee. The board voted against recommending the moratorium for Town Meeting, though member Jim Munise was the lone vote for it, as he said the moratorium might be helpful to have in place if the committee’s bylaw isn’t passed at Town Meeting.

McHale said in a recent interview that she wasn’t sure what the attorney general would do if both articles on solar are passed at Town Meeting. The two articles don’t necessarily conflict in her opinion — it’s more like, a moratorium is meant to grant the town time to study an issue.

That’s what the solar bylaw study committee has been doing for months, McHale said, so now is the time to bring the results of that work to the Town Meeting.