HALLOWELL — The Hallowell City Council voted unanimously this week to codify municipal rules for private and commercial solar energy systems.

Changes to the city’s revised code of ordinances passed quickly after a final reading at Monday’s meeting of the City Council, held over Zoom.

Doug Ide, code enforcement officer and interim city manager, said changes to the state’s solar rules have sparked a number of inquiries about solar arrays in Hallowell. Ide said the city’s ordinance changes help ensure Hallowell is prepared when solar projects are proposed.

The ordinance changes were the product of work done by the Solar Power Task Force, led by Councilor Patrick Wynne. He said the group, formed in September 2019, included residents committed to using solar power, especially given increasing concerns about climate change.

“I think climate change is probably the biggest social justice concern for the next generation,” Wynne said. “It’s a sad convenience in our culture that we have managed to ignore for so long.”

He said the task force will continue its work, which may include a campaign to urge private residents to move to solar power. Wynne also said the group is working on a request for proposals that would solicit plans for one or more solar arrays to meet the city’s need for electricity.

The first reading of the ordinance came in December. In Hallowell, ordinances require three readings before becoming official.

Ide said the ordinance changes are meant to link commercial solar installations with “public utilities,” a definition that was already in city ordinances, and to distinguish between private and residential solar and create performance standards, especially in cases of abandoned installations.

The draft of the ordinance finalized Monday night adds to definitions to the town’s Land Use Control ordinance for two types of solar energy systems: “Private” and “public utility.”

A private system is defined as an array — mounted on a roof or the ground — to furnish solar energy “to dwellings, buildings or structures on the lot on which it is produced or adjacent lots” owned by the same party. The solar panels for private systems may not exceed 2,000 square feet, unless the Planning Board grants a variance.

The ordinance states private solar energy systems are a permitted in all districts, but require a building permit from the code enforcement officer. That permit would come with a $30 fee.

Public utility — or commercial — systems are defined as those whose intended to harvest solar energy and turn it into electricity, are connected to the electric grid and furnish electricity to the public. The panels for these systems typically measure more than 2,000 square feet, requiring a variance from the city.

The ordinance also makes rules for the removal and abandonment of commercial solar arrays, stating a system is considered abandoned if it has not operated for one year and should be removed. After one year, the ordinance states, the operator must “remove all solar energy systems, structures, equipment, security barriers, and transmission lines from the site.”

The operator must also dispose of all solid and hazardous waste and stabilize and, if needed, revegetate the site — preferably with native plants or seed mixtures — to minimize erosion.

The proposed ordinance also adds a performance standard that states poles and wires should be “avoided to the extent practical within the facility.”

Ide said public utility solar arrays would be allowed as conditional uses in the Business C, Business D and Rural Farm zoning districts.

He said the larger facilities are allowed in Residential 1, 2, or 3 district, but there is not enough land to install a commercial array.

All conditional uses, Ide said, are subject to Planning Board review.

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