On Thursday 11 January 2024, the Planning Board will hold a Public Hearing to receive feedback on the proposed Solar Energy Systems zoning amendment. (7:00pm in the Town Offices.) Here is a link to the Draft amendment on the Town website: https://www.lymenh.gov/sites/g/files/vyhlif4636/f/uploads/solar_energy_systems_draft_for_web.pdf
I am strongly in favor of increasing the amount of solar energy generated in Lyme. And the town is in favor too: in the recent survey over 60% of respondents supported arrays covering up to seven acres.
That said, I am concerned that the proposed amendment contains several “poison pills” that would discourage the development of these systems in Lyme. My concerns relate specifically to section “14.60 Requirements for a Conditional Use Permit”:
1) Power lines to solar arrays must be buried. The proposed amendment states:
14.60.h) All power and communication lines (both on- site and off- site) serving a Ground-mounted Solar Energy System shall be buried underground
At a recent meeting, the Planning Board confirmed that this language was meant to include the power lines running from the main road up to the site of the panels. When asked whether this was a necessary requirement, the general response was, “Well, they’re spending a lot of money on this, so it won’t be much of an increase.”
I would ask the Board to make a clear statement about: 1) what data they used regarding cost of the added expense and 2) why this is an important requirement?
My recommendation would be to remove section 14.60.h completely and rely on the other language in that section that requires solar arrays to be “visually unobtrusive”.
2) Power must primarily be sold to Lyme. The proposed ordinance also states:
14.60.c) Medium and Large Solar Energy Systems may be allowed only if at least 60% of the power generated by each SES will be sold for use at properties in Lyme.
This feels like an unreasonable restriction on the ability to create larger solar arrays. Although it “feels good” to insist that Lyme receive the power, the fact is that any generated power will go into the grid. Furthermore, the Town would need to set up a set of regulations regarding how that 60% will be measured prior to the approval. Finally, what would happen if some of those customers switched, and the percentage fell below 60%? Would the Town revoke their permission to operate?
My recommendation would be to remove section 14.60.c completely. Lyme (and the whole world) all need more electric power, and the Lyme Zoning Ordinance should not introduce unnecessary constraints.
3) Prohibition on clear cutting for five years. The proposed ordinance also states:
14.60.g) A Large Solar Energy System may not not located on a site which has an area of over an acre that has been clear cut within the last 5 years.
This is another “feel good” provision, but it is not supported by the facts. We should definitely protect our forests, for habitat preservation, biodiversity, recreation, and other factors, but not to the exclusion of other important uses.
First off, Lyme has over 30,000 acres of forested land according to the Lyme Conservation Commission’s Natural Resource Inventory . Creating a small number of five to seven acre sites would not make any significant change to the forests in Lyme.
Second, a landowner can clear cut their land at any time, for any reason, or no reason at all, with only pro-forma approval from the Town. This amendment would introduce a new constraint: “you can clear cut… but only if you are not going to put up solar panels.”
Finally, it is not borne out by the science. An acre of second-growth forest sequesters about a metric ton of carbon per year. In the 80 years or so since Lyme was substantially clear cut for sheep farming, an acre of forest would have accumulated 80 metric tons of carbon. That’s a lot. BUT… if that acre were clear-cut, over two years, an acre of solar panels would generate enough electricity to offset the burning of natural gas to produce that same energy.  So in those first two years, the solar panels would replace the carbon stored in that acre of forest. And in every year following, it would save over two hundred times the amount that the acre of forest would have sequestered.
My recommendation would be to remove section 14.60.g entirely, since there is no need to force a five-year delay on a good project.
This proposed zoning amendment is fundamentally a good plan. With the removal of these three restrictions, the residents of Lyme should enthusiastically approve it. If these constraints remain in the ordinance, I am concerned that they will discourage all medium or large solar arrays, and that Lyme will not meet its goal of 100% renewable energy by 2030.
 Lyme Conservation Commission, Natural Resources Inventory, 2007 https://www.lymenh.gov/sites/g/files/vyhlif4636/f/uploads/natural_resources_inventory.pdf
 Solar panels reduce CO2 emissions more per acre than trees https://blogs.law.columbia.edu/climatechange/2022/10/25/response-to-the-new-york-times-essay-are-there-better-places-to-put-large-solar-farms-than-these-forests/
 Proposed Lyme Solar Energy System Amendment, December 2023 https://www.lymenh.gov/sites/g/files/vyhlif4636/f/uploads/solar_energy_systems_draft_for_web.pdf
Feel free to share this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or email. Any opinions expressed here are solely my own, and not those of any public body, such as the Lyme Planning Board, Budget Committee, or Trustees of the Trust Funds where I volunteer. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at email@example.com.