BURLINGTON – Fresh off residential solar energy becoming permissible under Town Zoning Bylaw 10.9 in 2018, the Planning Board was presented with such a plan for the first time, and it was on a much larger scale than they anticipated.
Northeast Solar Service, doing-business-as Revolusun which is a solar energy company headquartered in Burlington, informed the board they are requesting a special permit to allow two ground-mounted tracking solar arrays at 50 Margaret Street, off Center Street.
Tracking solar systems are designed to maximize efficiency by following the sun as it moves across the sky, but lay flat at night or during inclement weather. The special permit is necessary because, at times, these arrays will exceed the 15-foot maximum height limit for ground-mounted solar arrays, set forth in the town zoning bylaws. Revolusun confirmed during normal operation, the system should never exceed 20-feet in height. Technically, these tracking solar arrays are industrial sized and are the same as what can be seen on Fourth Avenue in Northwest Park, except this proposal calls for black arrays, while the Fourth Avenue arrays have gray lines running across.
Lou Yarid, of Revolusun, detailed to the board the tracking solar arrays can never tilt more than 60-degrees, so the 20-foot height restriction is met.
“The arrays will lay flat if the wind gets too hard or snow is coming,” explained Yarid, noting there is a mini windmill device at the tip of the arrays, signaling the arrays to lay flat. “This equipment is very intelligent.”
As for 50 Margaret Street, the expansive property is situated in a heavily vegetated area. Based on where the tracker solar arrays would be located in the plan, no one driving or walking by would be able to see them.
However, the town’s building inspector does not approve of the location of the solar arrays, citing the applicant needs to adhere to the setbacks in the front yard. In most situations, the front yard setback is meant to prevent large structures from locating on that part of the property because it is typically visible to abutters. In the case of 50 Margaret Street, the front yard is covered under the veil of vegetation and a large property.
Let’s go for a site walk
With the building inspector at odds with the proposal, the planners felt it’s prudent to take a site walk at some point from now until the board’s next meeting. Throughout that timeframe, the anticipation is that the applicant and building inspector can iron out the front yard setback issue.
The planners also asked the applicant to provide pictures of similar tracker solar array units from other residential properties, of which Revolusun has installed in other communities.
“We need to see how industrial sized tracker solar arrays look in a residential setting,” inquired Planning Board member William Gaffney.
The potential of noise was queried by some abutters who attended the hearing. Yarid disclosed the trackers only produce 15 decibels of noise, so a person has to be 15-feet away to hear anything. The solar arrays themselves don’t make any noise. The abutters who asked live roughly 50-feet from 50 Margaret Street.
Planning Board Chair Barbara L’Heureux laid out the plan for this proposal moving forward, which culminated in a continuance.
“We are not going to vote on this tonight. It seems as though we have a lot to learn,” Chair L’Heureux remarked, regarding this being the first residential tracker solar array proposal in front of the board since the town bylaw was updated in 2018. “I share [member Gaffney’s concern], that we did not anticipate this when we moved forward with the residential solar bylaw. It is much more industrial and larger than we envisioned for a residential area.”
An important footnote in the permit is that the applicant isn’t planning on removing any trees to fit the tracker solar arrays on the property. Chair L’Heureux wants to make sure, if relocation does occur, no trees will be impacted.
“If relocation happens, I do not want trees to be sacrificed, as a result,” she urged.
Acknowledging that a lot of work is needed for this unprecedented special permit, the planners voted to continue this matter to its next meeting this Thursday at 7 p.m. in Town Hall’s Main Hearing Room.