EXETER – In the latest development in what has become a long, topsy-turvy process, the Exeter Town Council voted Monday to overturn the adoption of the planning board’s solar ordinance. The council initially voted 3-2 to approve the planning board’s ordinance, called Solar #8, on Sept. 4; however, soon after, one of the councilors who voted in favor of the ordinance, Raymond Morrissey, requested that the council meet again so he could change his vote.
At Monday’s special meeting, Morrissey explained that he had misheard and misunderstood what, exactly, he was voting for.
“The night of the meeting on Sept. 4 during public hearing was full off noise and commotion,” he said. “There was side conversations happening at the council table and people in the audience speaking out. Even a member of the audience asked for people to speak one at a time. Where I sat, I had to struggle to hear people speak while competing with the noise of the air conditioning unit behind me.”
Morrissey added that he also has hearing loss as a result of his time as a machine gunner in the US Army.
“After spending a tour in the US Army as a machine gunner in the infantry division and having worked on a flight line for over twenty years in Rhode Island Air National Guard, I have a disability from the VA (Veterans Affairs) of hearing loss and tinnitus,” Morrissey explained.
He also said that, when council president Kevin McGovern called for the vote on Sept. 4, he hesitated, not knowing exactly what the council was voting on.
“After the vote was taken, I sat in shock and awe as to what I had just done. I was speechless knowing that my disability had gotten the best of me. The following morning I contacted the town solicitor. I asked him how I could rescind my vote and here we are tonight,” he said.
The retallying of votes on Monday, and the overturning of the adoption of Solar #8, is just the latest development in an ongoing discussion and debate over how to establish solar in Exeter.
Back in July, the council previously approved of a different solar ordinance proposed by the solar company Green Development, which Solar #8, before being overturned this week, went on to replace less than two months later.
Solar #8 and Green Development’s ordinance differ in several ways.
Primarily, Green Development’s ordinance specifically removed the requirement of a special use permit (SUP) for 15 properties near the Lafayette substation, allowing companies like Green Development to install solar arrays on residential property without having to go through the process of acquiring the permit, while Solar #8 applied to the whole town.
“The primary difference is that the Green Development ordinance applies to only 15 sites in Exeter and not to the rest of the properties in town,” planning board vice chairman Frank Degregorio explained last month. “Whereas the Solar #8 allows for solar utility scale size throughout the town but based on the size of the solar installation. It’s set up so that it starts with the small, medium, large and the real large utility scale.”
“Every parcel and every farm would have the opportunity to have solar facilities on their property, where Green Development’s only allows it by right on the 15 properties that have been singled out,” he added.
Degregorio also said he was in favor of Solar #8 because it protected Exeter’s comprehensive plan and rural character.
However, Morrissey argued on Monday that Solar #8, and the allowance for utility scale size development throughout the town, could result in higher property taxes for Exeter residents.
“I truly respect the planning board and what they did for draft Solar #8, but I do not support it. I am here tonight to make a wrong into a right,” Morrissey said. “If Solar #8 remains in effect, there may be a great possibility of farmers or landowners selling their land to housing developers, which will have a potential increase in our school population. That in itself is a great risk in an increase in property taxes. People would not be able to afford to live here any longer.”
He also denied any rumors that he was persuaded to change his vote, calling the process an “us-versus-them political circus.”
“I have heard rumors circulating around that other members of the town council were involved in my decision to rescind my vote,” Morrissey said. “Those rumors do not hold water.”
The council ultimately voted 3-2 to reject the adoption of Solar #8, with McGovern and councilor Calvin Ellis voting in favor and council vice president Daniel Patterson, councilor Frank Maher and Morrissey voting against. With the overturning of the adoption, it is unclear whether the town will now revert back to Green Development’s solar ordinance.