GLENVILLE — The Town Board on Wednesday adopted a new local law that could encourage development of commercial solar electricity arrays in some parts of town.
The law was unanimously adopted by the board at a meeting held by webinar due to pandemic restrictions and will allow large solar energy farms — photovoltaic arrays potentially much larger than the Schenectady County-owned Hetcheltown Road project, but limit them to within a half-mile of electrical substations.
Koetzle said many solar developers have expressed interest, and he anticipates the town could see applications within a matter of weeks.
Money from the payments-in-lieu-of-taxes such facilities would make will be used to fund town park improvements and operating costs as part of a planned “Solar for Parks” initiative, Koetzle said.
“This has been a long term project of mine to bring cleaner, greener energy to Glenville while creating an innovative and creative brand new ‘solar for parks’ program,” he posted on Facebook Thursday morning. “This program will protect the taxpayer, cut energy costs, promote greener technology and help fund our parks!”
The Solar for Parks initiative, which Koetzle proposed in his State of the Town presentation last month, would use an up-front fee of $7,000 per acre and an annual fee on solar facilities estimated at $5,000 per megawatt to pay the costs of the town park system.
The town parks have historically been funded through subdivision recreation fees, he said — but that source has dwindled in recent years as the number of new subdivisions being built has shrunk.
At the same time, Koetzle said the town really needs to establish a town parks department, separate from the highway department, which currently maintains the town parks. “This is an innovative way to deal with a problem,” he said on Thursday.
The law passed Wednesday includes the fee structure, but launching the “Solar for Parks” initiative will require a separate Town Board action, Koetzle acknowledged.
The new law requires solar facilities be located on properties of at least 30 acres, and includes requirements for setbacks from the property line and visual screening of the solar panels from neighbors. It also includes requirements for dismantling solar arrays if they are no longer being used.
Koetzle said the town has been approached a number of times over the last year by developers interested in commercial solar development, though none has yet pursued plans.
State policy is encouraging solar development. As of 2019, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority said the state was producing two gigawatts of energy — enough to supply about 244,000 homes — from solar energy. The state’s goal is to reach six gigawatts of production by 2025.
The two electric substations in town are at Swaggertown and Bolt roads in the rural part of the town, and on Washington Avenue in the village of Scotia. The law creates overlay districts in a half-mile circumference around those substations where large-scale solar is allowed.
Koetzle said the geographic limits are an effort to balance the interests of residents who oppose solar panels for aesthetic reasons with the interests of residents who want solar power because it is a source of “clean power.”
Specific projects will require approval from the Town Board.
Also on Wednesday, the Town Board approved a zoning change for a former dental office on Route 50 at the southern end of the Town Center area that will allow construction of a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant on the site.
Chipotle said the town has been working for a year or more on plans to bring the Town Center its first Mexican-themed eatery.
“We’re been working on it a long time, prior to COVID and then COVID put the kibosh on it, and now it’s back,” Koetzle said. He said the developer hopes to start construction this summer and open the restaurant by late summer or early fall.
Other chain restaurants that have located in the Town Center in the last few years include Panera, Five Guys, Applebee’s, Subway and, most recently, a stand-alone Starbucks. McDonald’s is a long-time presence.