Westport officials passed an ordinance this week requiring operators of large-scale solar arrays to obtain a license from the municipality prior to setting up shop.

The ordinance has stipulated that any person intending to operate a solar-energy system rated one megawatt (MW) or higher submit an application with the township, including information about what they have proposed for the site and how it will comply with a series of minimum standards.

Town attorney and administrator Tom Wilson said the standards would include requirements for large-scale solar sites to be buffered and screened from public view, to not interfere with nearby farm operations, to comply with state and federal requirements for storm-water management, and to promote prairie vegetation as ground cover throughout the solar field, among other provisions.

“It’s probably as extensive as we can be on the things that they have to do,” Wilson said.

Town-board members would then review the solar-license application, issue a proposed decision and schedule a public hearing in which neighbors could submit public comment on the proposal.

A final decision would be made based on review and information received at the public hearing.

Wilson told town supervisors at their Oct. 4 meeting that the code borrowed language from a comprehensive-plan amendment in the Town of Springfield, where solar arrays are now regulated by the municipality, as well as an ordinance recommended by the Wisconsin Towns Association.

The latter was challenged by representatives of the solar industry in northern Wisconsin, and upheld by a court of appeals.

“These are things that we can do – because even though they’re approved by the State of Wisconsin,” Wilson said, “we would be able to have more of a say with this ordinance.”

Wilson noted the potential for a solar farm in Westport, particularly along County Hwy. 113. Webcrafters is selling property in the area which could be appealing to energy company MGE. Wilson said other commercial or residential development on the land seems unlikely at this point.

“There’s potential for a solar farm there,” Wilson said. “And we want to have some regulations in place if that happens and it gets approved by the state.”

Supervisor Ken Sipsma asked whether the intention was to discourage solar farms in Westport.

Wilson said the town was “doing everything possible” to ensure responsible operation of solar arrays in the township, but nothing preventative.

“This is not to prevent it from happening,” Wilson said. “We just want to make sure that there’s assurances, like if they shut down, that they’re going to restore it and not leave it just hanging there… So this just gives us some standards to follow, that they make them look good.”

The town board approved the ordinance by a 4-0 vote, with board member Terry Enge absent from Monday night’s meeting. Supervisors expressed hope that the new ordinance helps guide large-scale solar operations in the future.

“We’re not against solar energy,” board member Mark Trotter said. “We’re for solar energy. We just want it done right.”

Other business

Also at Monday’s meeting, the town board:

- Received a water-utility report from town staff. Wilson reported that the water tower had received its first coat of paint, and that the project should be completed soon.

- Discussed the town’s 2022 budget. Wilson said the proposed levy increase is $25,000. The increase would be nearly imperceptible to taxpayers, however, now that the township has approximately $1 billion in property value.

- Heard an update on the decennial redistricting process. Dane County’s redistricting commission recently presented three potential maps for the county board to consider. Once a map has been approved, Westport will need to update its own ward map.

- Went into closed session to discuss potential changes to the town board. Wilson said the discussion included personal information regarding what supervisors had planned for the future (i.e. retirement from public office), which could affect committee membership moving forward. No notice of resignation or non-candidacy has been submitted at this time.

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