Proposed Rotterdam solar law gets board support

Concerns raised about panels on tall poles

A proposed solar power facilities law received generally favorable reviews at a Rotterdam Town Board public hearing on Sunday.

In looking at adopting an ordinance, the town is following in the footsteps of others that have tried to deal with sometimes controversial photovoltaic facilities.

The proposed law would allow roof-mounted residential solar panels throughout the town, ground-mounted residential solar panels with some restrictions, and large commercial “solar farms” only in rural and industrial areas, with site-specific town reviews.

“As the impacts increase, we thought the town oversight should increase in proportion,” said Jonathan Tingley, chairman of the Rotterdam Steering Committee.

The committee recommended the law, which must be adopted by the Town Board, which has given supportive reviews.
Elsewhere in the Capital Region and across the country, pole-mounted solar panels have generated opposition and lawsuits from neighbors unhappy with their appearance, and large-scale solar farms have also drawn opposition.

Despite controversies, solar panel use is booming across the country, as equipment prices have dropped and solar installation companies offer energy discount deals to homeowners.

Nationally, the industry had its best ever quarter in the third quarter of 2016, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The SEIA said total nationwide solar capacity is now 35.8 gigawatts, enough to power 6.5 million U.S. homes and reduce carbon emissions by 41.7 million metric tons annually.

As an incentive to meet state goals to reduce fossil fuel use, New York state has a “net metering” law that allows residential property owners to balance their electric bill against the amount of energy they are producing from solar panels.

Until now, Rotterdam has been allowing solar panels as an “accessory use” to homes and businesses on a case-by-case basis, though Tingley noted that the current law makes no distinction among types of solar energy installations.
The one point of controversy at Sunday’s hearing was over pole-mounted panels — the kind of installation that has most typically generated opposition in residential areas.

The proposed law would allow ground-mounted or pole-mounted solar panels to be up to 20 feet high — a height Councilman Joseph Villano thinks is too high in most neighborhoods.

“We’re allowing people to build an accessory structure in their back yard that could be as high as the roof on a ranch-style house. It just seems out of scale with those particular kinds of uses. What I would like to see is any pole-mounted, ground-mounted systems be restricted out into agricultural land or the industrial,” Villano said.
But other than that, he told Tingley, “I’m thrilled with what you’ve proposed to us.”

Tingley said the committee discussed the height issue, but members felt requiring a minimum half-acre lot and 20-foot setback from the property line would address any concerns.

“We thought 20-foot is a substantial structure, but we thought that if it was a large enough lot and set back far enough, that would minimize the impact,” Tingley said.

The town zoning code doesn’t currently allow for “solar farms,” intended to produce energy for the electrical grid.
Under the proposed law, they would be allowed after a town Planning Board review in industrial, light industrial and agricultural zones.

The proposed law would also allow the town to generate revenue through payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements with commercial solar facilities.

Currently, state law allows for a 15-year property tax exemption for solar facilities approved by the state Energy Research and Development Authority — but it also allows communities to collect money under PILOT agreements with those facilities.
Tingley said payments would need to be negotiated between a solar farm owner and the town on a case-by-case basis.
The committee also recommended that the owner of a solar farm be required to post a bond to guarantee the dismantling or decommissioning of the facility when it stops being used.

The Town Board took no action on the proposal at its New Year’s Day meeting. The earliest it could act would be the Jan. 18 Town Board meeting.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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