From left, poll clerks Caroleen Caldwell and Myrna Robinson sign in voters at the New Sharon Town Office on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 2. Alongside state and county referendum questions, New Sharon voters were asked whether to approve an ordinance on solar energy systems. The measure was passed by a vote of 381 to 214. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

NEW SHARON — New Sharon voters approved the town’s “Solar Energy Systems Ordinance” Tuesday, Nov. 2, by a vote of 381 to 214.

The ordinance is a means to regulate commercial solar energy systems in New Sharon. Commercial solar energy systems — small, medium and large scale — can already set up shop in town, with or without the ordinance. However, Town Clerk Pamela Adams clarified that this ordinance directly addresses the appropriate uses for solar energy and creates “boundaries and limits” for the kinds of permits the town can approve.

The ordinance does not apply to residential solar energy systems and, as a result, they are exempt from needing approval or permitting.

The ordinance is for solar only, a change from one first proposed on Sept. 15, 2020, that would have covered all energy systems. Action on that ordinance was tabled when new information was received the day prior to the special meeting.

“This is a totally different ordinance (from the general energy-systems ordinance),” Code Enforcement Officer Jon Arnold said recently. “We broke it down, made it more feasible, more basic.”

Things such as setbacks, right of ways, lot coverage, and other items were changed in this ordinance, he said.

Adams said that it appeared to her, at a public hearing on the ordinance and in speaking with residents, that “there are people who feel very strongly on both sides.”

Adams said the discussion in favor of the ordinance has been that “we have (no ordinance) that addresses solar energy and it is appropriate to put boundaries and limits around applications (the town receives).”

Those against the ordinance, she said, feel that it is “not the place of the town to decide what people do with their property.”

At the polls, voters that spoke with the Franklin Journal were also split on the measure.

New Sharon voter Michelle Winslow said she was on the fence about voting to approve the ordinance, however ultimately chose “yes” to create some regulations.

“The ordinance is good to have in place because we already have (construction of) solar farms going on in town,” Winslow said.

Voter Nancy German agreed. She also felt that the implementation of solar energy systems is a double-edged sword, but ultimately positive — a movement she witnessed while living in Germany.

“Is it pretty? No,” she said. “But it’s a good way to get energy.”

However, not all voters agreed with those sentiments.

Felicia Bell, an EMT and firefighter in New Sharon, said she voted “no” because there is no such thing as true clean energy — a concern she also had with the NECEC corridor.

The offshoot environmental effects of building solar energy systems (the materials, gas emissions, etc.) and other clean energy systems are immense and outweigh the benefits, she said.

“I think it’s more hassle than what it is worth,” Bell added.

Debbi Holt simply does “not want solar in (her) backyard.”

The ordinance takes effect immediately.

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