Downtown: City solar decision approaching with mixed reaction 

Monitor staff
Published: 6/9/2019 6:00:33 PM

It’s high noon for solar in Concord.

A set of changes to the city’s solar ordinances will go before a public hearing prior to possible adoption Monday night.

Don’t feel guilty if that gives you a little déjà vu – it’s been months since changes to the ordinances were first floated, and the city has taken its time soliciting input and coming up with rules that are a little different than other cookie-cutter solar ordinances around the state.

And after all this time, it’s likely some people still won’t be happy with the results.

In particular, a unique way of looking at how much “land” a solar panel covers and caps for certain zoning types seems to be causing consternation.

The city calculates lot coverage by measuring how much an impervious surface – like a building’s roof or paved parking lot – covers a parcel. Under current zoning rules, the impervious area of each panel is calculated by laying it perfectly flat. 

If the city’s changes go through, the city would instead use a solar land coverage calculation which utilizes the perimeter of the development instead of individual components. This would include the space between the panels.

The proposal also sets a hard cap at 25 acres for any development except in the industrial district. But that doesn’t mean a 25-acre lot could be completely covered by panels.

In the open space/residential district, for example, a commercial solar project could cover only 40 percent of the lot; a community project could cover 50 percent. In all other allowed districts, solar could cover anywhere from 60 to 85 percent.

Like anything involving land use, “for” and “against” camps have emerged.

Residents, particularly those on W. Portsmouth Street, seem to be uniformly against it, as they pretty much were last year when NextEra Solar tried to put a 54-acre array on Brochu Nursery’s land. Their reasons span from what they see as potential health risks to destroying the rural landscape they love.

“This municipality should be considering long-term, sustainable ways to gather energy, to make progress within our town, and allow for the safest and most fulfilling civic engagement and appreciation possible,” wrote James Thorpe. “Allowing for large scale solar of this residential areas...falls far short of that delineation.”

Others urged the city to make solar more accessible, even if they couldn’t take direct advantage of it themselves.

“I live in an attached condo unit with trees on both the front and the back, but if I had the space I would be putting solar panels on my roof to cut my energy costs and to help the environment,” wrote Maureen Ellerman. 

Then there are those who are worried about solar from an agricultural perspective.

“(Agricultural) land is a precious resource we cannot afford to remove from availability for production, even if such removal is putatively impermanent,” wrote Rob Blakeney.

One of the state’s biggest solar advocacy group leaders called Concord’s plan “exceedingly restrictive” and “not congruent with reality.”

“It is my understanding that the goal of this ordinance is to provide clarity and consistency not to actively restrict or prohibit solar development in Concord,” wrote Madeleine Mineau, executive director of Clean Energy NH, the group that helped develop the model solar ordinance referenced on New Hampshire’s Office of Strategic Initiatives website.

Regardless of what camp you fall into, nothing is over until the City Council takes a vote. If you have a feeling about how the city should regulate solar, the council’s meeting starts at 7 p.m.

Final energy input

Speaking of energy goals, a final stakeholder meeting for those interested in the city’s renewable energy plan is set for Tuesday night.

The meeting will feature a short introduction and presentation by members of the Concord Energy and Environment Advisory Committee on the plan thus far. This will be followed by a large group discussion where stakeholders can give direct feedback, according to the city.

As a refresher, the city’s non-binding goal is to get all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. All thermal energy and transportation will come from renewable sources by 2050.

The plan will eventually have to be adopted by the city council. Check out the 54-page draft plan online.

The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. and will go till 8:30 p.m. 

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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