The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 1, 2010

Can Carlisle become a green community? Maybe...

It seems almost counter-intuitive that Carlisle, a town with a 50-year history of land conservation and a track record that attests to the preservation of natural resources, should struggle to qualify to the state as a “green community.” Today the 35 communities that qualify share access to $8.1 million in special state funding. Nonetheless, it is that very quality of preservation that has delayed the town’s admittance. A main roadblock is the requirement to expedite the permitting process for renewable energy projects that qualify for the funding. While access to funding helps in difficult times, the Planning Board members feel it is important to consider possible tradeoffs in a timely, but thoughtful manner.

Steve Hinton, member of the Energy Task Force, was present at the Planning Board meeting on September 27 to discuss if it was possible for Carlisle to become a green community. “We need a definition of what expediting permitting means,” he began. Building Inspector John Luther quipped, “Don’t you do that now?” Planning Board Chair David Freedman succinctly replied, “We do our best now.”

After having just gone through the first revised site plan process for the fiscal year with the building project at the Carlisle Public School, the unanswered question in the room was whether or not the Planning Board would be willing to go through the revision process again so soon. Updating the board’s process requires hours of research, discussion, documentation, a public hearing and ultimately a positive vote at Town Meeting.

What other green communities do

The Planning Board and the Energy Task Force looked at the list of the 35 communities and tried to identify which of those similar to Carlisle had projects that qualified for funding. Luther called Hamilton, Lincoln and Wenham as comparable towns. Other towns on the list included Sudbury, Hopkinton, Lancaster and Palmer. The awards to these towns included $136K to $145K for energy efficiency measures such as a solar project, an energy analysis of Town Hall, the incremental cost of a fuel-efficient vehicle to offset the cost of an energy service or service management contract, and municipal building energy efficiency measures.

Hinton cited similar Carlisle projects under investigation that might qualify: an energy retrofit at the school and an updated heating and control system at Town Hall. He said, “we could tap into some real dollars here.”

Addressing internal issues

Freedman acknowledged the benefits to Carlisle in qualifying as a green community. He asked the members of the Energy Task Force to research the projects and how these towns addressed permitting issues, and also to investigate how “by-right” solar permitting might allow for potentially large energy-renewable projects that might adversely affect surrounding residents.

Again, Hinton cut to the chase: “we are more than prepared to do the research, but how much effort will you put in on your part for the next three months. Is this something that you would work with us on? Rather than us going off ‘willy-nilly’ is this something that will work?” The Energy Task Force had also spent the last fiscal year researching by-right siting for wind-power projects, an effort that after hours in research, documentation, and discussion at open hearings, never made it to Town Meeting.

Freedman stated that the wind bylaw failed approach was an example where too much was left unresolved beforehand. He emphasized the need to look at the impact of “by right” acceptance of large-scale solar sites. He noted that these sites would have to be at least 600 kilowatts, and that “people were balking at 50 kilowatts.” Luther gave an example of how the town of Lincoln had converted a parking lot into solar panels, and how the cars parked underground. The building inspector suggested combining sites such as the fire station roof and the parking lot, and Cook added in Town Hall and the school. An acre of 250 kilowatts could combine several town-owned locations.

Freedman queried whether you could restrict “by right” solar development to town-owned properties, and emphasize that Town Counsel needed to have input. He wondered if large areas in the zone, citing the St. Irene’s church parking lot and field as an example, could be converted – through by-right permitting – to solar panel sites, thereby creating a “blinding” laser eye sore. He cited other entities that would have a say including the Conservation Commission and the Historic Commission.

Much work for uncertain reward

And, if Carlisle met the green community requirements, would there be committed funding asked member Jeff Johnson? Planning Administrator George Mansfield responded affirmatively, but that the exact portion of the pie would be smaller.

“It’s the gift that keeps giving,” added Cook. He noted that not only would it benefit the town to have energy-saving projects already under investigation at municipal buildings and the school funded by state money, but the budget would also realize saving on costs once the energy savings were implemented.

Freedman agreed that it made sense to get projects funded under the program, and encouraged the Energy Task Force to move ahead with their efforts and consult all the various groups that would might have input or concerns. He encouraged the group not to “waste time worrying that it might not happen,” but instead spend time talking to other identified stakeholders in town – such as the school, the fire department, and other boards – a well as getting sample bylaws from a few other towns relating to solar facilities to examine their complexity and determine the level of review needed by Town Counsel.

Planning board members Kent Gonzales and Michael Epstein stepped up to work with the Energy Task Force at their October 18 meeting. The group will consolidate input and prepare for a presentation at the Planning Board’s next meeting on October 25. ∆

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