When the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) issued its’ Model Solar Guide (click here) and Model Solar Zoning Bylaw (click here) it was meant to help towns achieve reasonable regulations for compliance with state law 40A Section 3 that reads as follows: 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.
Many towns have passed solar bylaws the Attorney General’s (AG) office approved, sometimes with cautions. For a list of these towns click here and look for “Bylaw Type.” All the towns that have received AG approval with cautions have adopted very restrictive solar zoning bylaws that do not conform to the DOER suggested models. Many of these towns actually do prohibit solar development. Marion prohibits solar that can be seen from land or water. Lincoln prohibits solar energy that is sold (net metered). Your town may be composing or voting on Solar by-laws to submit to the Municipal Law Unit of the AG’s office for approval.
MASOA urges you to get active in your town and support the DOER model by-laws.
It would be unfortunate if as a state we waste years of case by case court battles to set precedents on what a town zoning law can and cannot prohibit for solar installations. When asked at a recent campaign stop in Easthampton why her office appears to approve anti-solar bylaws, Attorney General Martha Coakley referred MASOA to Margaret Hurley, Dir. of the Municipal Law Unit. Director Hurley promptly responded to us saying the AG has limited power to disapprove local zoning, “[i]t is fundamental that every presumption is to be made in favor of the validity of municipal by-laws.” She added “we regularly include a caution in our solar by-law decisions along the following lines: General Laws Chapter 40A, § 3 protects solar energy systems and the building of structures that facilitate the collection of solar energy … there are no court decisions to guide the Town and this Office in determining what qualifies as an unreasonable regulation of solar uses in contravention of M.G.L. c. 40A, § 3. However, the Town should be mindful of this requirement in applying [the zoning by-law] and consult closely with Town Counsel during the process.”
As an organization MASOA can help Massachusetts citizens be mindful that solar technology is one of our best medicines for environmental healing. We’ll be meeting with the AG’s office soon to discuss how towns can meet the spirit of the law and stay out of court battles.