Stakeholder Concerns and Challenges surrounding Solar By-Laws in Hopkinton

Stakeholder Concerns and Challenges surrounding Solar By-Laws in Hopkinton

Here’s a quick summary of concerns that residents, land owners, town officials and abutters in Hopkinton have been voicing over more than the last couple of years. To get an understanding of the timeline of actions and events that happened since 2017, please also see Commercial Ground-mounted Solar – The whole story which lays out a visual story broken down into snippets by a timeline

 

Concerns of homeowners and landowners

  • Some landowners who own land close to the designated land parcels marked for commercial solar, wish to develop their property. They worry about the viewshed and the impact it might have towards their property value. 
  • Other landowners may actually want to use their land to develop solar farms which may be profitable to them rather than other types of development. So restricting solar would be unfavorable to them. 
  • Others who already reside close to the parcels wish to maintain their property without any intrusion as they too worry about view shed and forest disruption. 

 

Concerns of town residents

  • Town residents who may not reside close to these land parcels are also worried about cutting down trees and clearing rich forest habitats. 
  • Residents take pride in the town’s rich forests and want to maintain the rural character and landscape of the town. 
  • Certain areas in town that already have solar arrays installed have experienced solar glare, as reported by residents in Alexander Rd. This creates potential public health and safety issues for residents.  
  • Cutting down trees close to highways can also create noise issues. 

 

Concerns of town officials and legal challenges

  • Town officials share similar concerns about the loss of natural habitat due to clearing of forests leading to the disruption of the town’s rural character. 
  • A blanket restriction on solar isn’t ideal either because town officials fear that it may have unintended consequences for landowners who actually want to develop their land for solar farming. These restrictions may force landowners towards using their land for some other type of development which may end up being worse for residents. 
  • A solar overlay district by-law would be too limiting and targeted towards one type of industry. In a recent decision in 2019, based on a proceeding, the chief justice of the land court basically rejected the idea altogether that one can prohibit solar in some districts and allow it in others. Hence, this by-law targeting one type of industry would not hold up in court if such a situation were to arise. 
  • Town officials are also concerned about liabilities against state law (MGL 40a sec3) that prevents a town’s zoning by-laws from restricting the installation of solar energy systems by companies, except when it violates public health, safety or welfare.
    According to the state law concerning solar installation… 
    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.”
  • After lengthy discussions, the town officials and town counsel were unable to settle on reasonable bounds of the definition of ‘public health, safety or welfare’ but felt that screening criteria and sight-lines might be one of the ways to approach the definition, especially considering the solar glare issues that were brought up by residents at Alexander Rd.  
  • Although there is a strong desire to find the right balance between encouraging solar use and preserving the interests of town residents, landowners and homeowners, the solution to this requires thoughtful consideration and thorough diligence from the Zoning Advisory Committee, the Planning Board, the Town Counsel and the Select Board as there are multiple stakeholders and interests involved in the process. 


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