Legislature passes bill allowing solar, photovoltaic energy systems across territory 'as a matter of right'
Published: October 2, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - The 30th Legislature approved a number of bills at the tail-end of its Legislative session Monday night and early Tuesday.
Among the bills approved in those blocks was one that would allow solar thermal energy systems and photovoltaic energy systems as permitted uses "as a matter of right" in all zoning districts in the territory.
The bill - which sponsor Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone said is to help the V.I. Water and Power Authority get solar power started in the St. Thomas-St. John District to bring the cost of electricity down - initially raised concerns of a number of senators when it first came up for consideration on Friday, but it was amended and passed at the end of the session Monday night and early Tuesday.
Construction of a utility-scale solar power plant already begun has on St. Croix.
On Friday, before the amendment was added, several senators noted a need for caution, expressed concerns about unintended consequences, and said the request raised red flags.
Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly said she thought residents would want to participate in public hearings if a solar plant was going to be placed next to their homes.
During discussion Friday, Legislature legal counsel Lisa Moorhead said that without the bill, the process of changing zoning to allow for a utility-scale solar power system would require going through the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and requesting a zoning variance, which would then go to the Senate for approval.
"With this law, you're giving them blanket ability to do it without coming to the Legislature," Moorhead said.
Some senators raised questions about why that might be necessary.
Ultimately, Malone held the bill on Friday to be further researched.
At the end of the session, the bill came up again and was amended and passed.
As amended, the bill still allows solar thermal energy systems and photovoltaic energy systems as permitted uses by matter of right in all zoning districts in the territory.
Although the amendment removed a phrase in the bill that made it clear that utility-scale systems are included in the blanket zoning approval, the remaining language does not preclude them.
In addition, the bill was amended to definitively allow utility-scale solar energy systems that will supply solar power to WAPA in six specific locations, regardless of zoning. Five of them are on St. Croix, comprising more than 200 acres, and the sixth is Lots 1 through 14 in Estate Donoe on St. Thomas.
The areas on St. Croix include an area in Estate Hartmann on Southside Road; an area of Petronella on the east side of Route 624; several plots of land in Estate Hogensberg; and an area in Spanish Town. A solar plant is already being built in Spanish Town.
Senators Judi Buckley, Diane Capehart, Donald Cole, Kenneth Gittens, Clifford Graham, Alicia Hansen, Myron Jackson, Malone, Clarence Payne III, Tregenza Roach, Sammuel Sanes and Janette Millin Young voted for the bill as amended. Sen. Terrence Nelson voted against it, and Sen. Craig Barshinger did not vote. O'Reilly was absent for the vote because of a death in the family.
Other measures passed at the end of the session included:
- A measure that reduces the five-member Casino Control Commission to three members. A non-germane amendment containing measures that balanced the Fiscal Year 2013 budget was attached to the bill.
- A resolution to recognize and honor the contributions and accomplishments of the V.I. National Guard.
- A bill approving the purchase of small land parcels in Estate Bovoni and Frenchman's Bay Quarter on St. Thomas, and acceptance of a gift of 5 percent undivided interest in Bovoni Cay, for inclusion into the territory's park system. According to the bill, the government will buy the 10,454 square feet of land for $31,000.
- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email email@example.com.