The town of Dublin is taking a forward-thinking approach to regulating alternative energy projects, proposing a zoning amendment for voters to review between now and Town Meeting in March. Tonight the Planning Board will present the ordinance in a public hearing.
By alternative energy projects, the draft ordinance (see full draft online at townofdublin.org/zoning-regulations, under A15) makes plain it is referring to solar, wind power, geothermal or other renewable systems. The draft differentiates between residential renewable energy systems and those intended to power businesses or for the sale of energy, but in both cases alternative energy systems are permitted in all four districts under this plan.
Currently, commercial wind farms are only permitted in the Rural District by special exception, so the town has a decision to make about whether to open up the possibility of wind farms to the rest of town.
“The wording conflicts with a decision we made several years ago that we would limit commercial wind projects to the rural district, as we worried about the visual impact on the Mountain District and felt they wouldn’t be appropriate in our small Village District,” noted Bruce Simpson, chair of the Planning Board. “So at the public hearing we’ll have to decide the issue of where commercial wind is allowed and whether or not a special exception is required. Given the potential adverse impact of large wind farms, it’s likely we’ll amend the language of the new ordinance to retain the current limits.”
If the current regulation on wind is retained, the ZBA could deny a wind project if it sees a burdensome impact or finds it does not meet the special exception criteria. “With solar, no special exception would be required for even a commercial solar installation. It would not go before the ZBA, and although the Planning Board could not deny the project, it would have authority to impose conditions to minimize adverse impacts,” Simpson said. “I think this is appropriate given that the adverse impacts from a large-scale wind farm are more likely than from a solar farm.”
The Planning Board has said the proposed ordinance would encourage the development of alternative energy in the town. It would no doubt make moving forward with such projects more streamlined. In 2015, two solar projects were brought forward, one for Yankee Publishing and the other for Dublin School, both of which were approved after some debate.
Too often we’ve seen towns taken by surprise by developers seeking to locate alternative energy projects and, without the guidance of ordinances that address them, those plans can run counter to the wishes of a community. The public hearing process is a chance for voters to offer input on the future of alternative energy systems in town ahead of voting in March. We hope residents will take notice of this opportunity and use it wisely.