What about doing it the other way around?
by Tom Evslin
We have a housing shortage in Vermont. Requiring solar makes housing more expensive. According to VTDigger “While the amendment would only regulate new residential buildings with four or more stories, there is a draft residential energy code being worked through that would apply a similar standard to all new residential buildings.”
We need housing more than we need solar panels.
Vermont should require that any land on which commercial solar panels are going to be deployed be first rezoned so that housing can be built there. The solar panels can then go on top of the houses. The fields of solar arrays alongside our roads are not beautiful or picturesque. The land would look better and be more useful if it had houses as well as solar panels on it.
Some land is not suitable for housing. We shouldn’t require housing without adequate septic, utilities, and water. However, those requirements should not be an excuse for confining development to those places with municipal services or an excuse for endless permit challenges. Our country land is being squandered when it is used for solar panels without houses under them.
The Act 250 reforms which the legislature elected not to pursue would have made it easier to build housing in the 90+% of the state which is rural. Opponents argue that permitting reforms will lead to suburban sprawl and destroy Vermont’s natural beauty. There’s nothing beautiful about glass and steel solar panels. There’s nothing beautiful about homelessness or substandard housing. Anywhere commercial solar panels are allowed, multifamily housing and housing on small lots should be allowed as well.
The permitting reform that did get through the legislature and which Gov. Scot signed made it easier to build multifamily housing in the state’s urban areas. South Burlington is making it harder to build by imposing additional costs. We don’t need to require (or forbid) solar panels. We do need give priority to housing over solar panels as a use of both our urban and rural land.
The author, an author, entrepreneur, former Vermont state cabinet officer, lives in Stowe. He founded NG Advantage, a natural gas truck delivery company. This commentary is republished with permission from his blog, Fractals of Change.