Scarborough moves to broaden residential use of solar power

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SCARBOROUGH — The Town Council gave preliminary approval Wednesday to zoning amendments that would allow free-standing solar arrays in residential neighborhoods.

The proposal from the Long Range Planning Committee is an “effort to broaden the allowance for alternative energy in Scarborough,” Town Planner Dan Bacon said at the Dec. 16 meeting. 

Once the amendments are vetted by the Planning Board, the proposal will return to the Town Council for a second reading. If approved, the amendments will become part of the town’s zoning laws.

The town previously approved zoning amendments that allowed wind power in 2009, Bacon said, because there was more of an impetus at that time for wind power.”

“That was sort of a short-lived proposition, (and) solar has become more prominent and feasible,” he said. 

“Now, as solar is seemingly becoming a preferred and cost-effective and reliable source of energy, there is more interest in installing solar arrays within common open space to generate energy for the homes within a subdivision,” Bacon wrote to councilors and Town Manager Tom Hall on behalf of the committee Dec. 9. 

Zoning laws allow solar arrays in mixed use, commercial, residential and industrial districts. The amendments would add solar energy systems in “common open space.” The amendments are being proposed to “really to kind of fill that void,” Bacon said. 

The request for the zoning change was made by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland, which is working with ReVision Energy, Bacon said, to install a free-standing solar array to power a 13-home subdivision on a 5.5-acre parcel off Broadturn Road. The project was approved by the council last summer and is under construction. 

The size and the power generated by subsequent free-standing arrays, Bacon said, will have to be “comparable” and “in proportion to the neighborhood” receiving the power.

The task of arranging future solar arrays in neighborhoods will be up to the Planning Board, according to the zoning amendments, and will be based on the “forecasted energy consumption of the dwellings … as well as the site’s ability to accommodate these systems without impacting the other purposes of the common open space.”

Future solar arrays must be less than 20 feet high and will be used only to generate electricity, hot water and heat, according to the amendments. 

Overall, Councilors were in support of the amendments. However, Councilor Shawn Babine said, “What I’m concerned about is that, when we’re thinking outside the box, that there is an evaluative process,” in order to make sure “we’re being consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland is working with ReVision Energy to install free-standing solar arrays to power a 13-home subdivision currently under construction off Broadturn Road in Scarborough.

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.