The Clifton Park Town Board recently extended a moratorium on new ground-mounted solar projects as town officials consider changes to its solar rules, though the new rules could be forthcoming soon.
John Scavo, director of the town planning department, on Monday said he was nearing completion of draft changes to the town code governing large ground-mounted solar projects and expected to present updated rules to the town board and the public in September.
Scavo said the draft changes would expand the areas in town where new solar projects could be located — potentially minimizing pressure on solar development in rural parts of Clifton Park — and update the town code to account for more current forms of solar development.
The town board in January approved a six-month moratorium on new large ground-mounted solar projects, the type popping up throughout the Capital Region, giving town officials time to work on updating its solar rules. The town board last month extended the moratorium by another three months.
Clifton Park Town Supervisor Phil Barrett in an interview last week said ground-mounted solar projects have become increasingly popular as the state has ramped up subsidies for renewable energy projects. That demand prompted the town to re-evaluate how the town code deals with the large solar projects.
“As the pressure began to mount and new projects were being submitted and discussed, we felt it was time to take a pause and review our code based on what we have learned through experience at this point,” Barrett said.
The town code has included solar-related provisions for around a decade, Scavo said, but it had not been updated since the state enabled so-called community solar in 2015, which enables homeowners to participate in large solar development projects rather than putting solar on their own property.
Scavo said the town considered state rules around community solar projects in the planning process of recent solar proposals but that an update to the code would codify community solar rules in the town code.
“That’s what our code lacked, was provisions for that (community solar),” Scavo said.
Some community residents have raised concerns about large solar projects in Clifton Park, citing the loss of prime farmland and the unsightly views of large solar fields.
Scavo said the draft regulations would enable new solar projects to be developed in parts of the town where they are currently prohibited; he said the proposed rules would allow for the projects within parts of town zoned for light industrial and corporate commerce, enabling potential solar projects in the more developed eastern part of the town. Scavo said enabling solar development within other planning zones could alleviate development pressure on the more rural western part of Clifton Park, where concerns about the loss of agricultural land is most salient.
“We are allowing some flexibility in some of the other (planning) zones,” Scavo said. “Hopefully, it will take some of that development pressure away from western Clifton Park by expanding where some of it can go.”
The draft regulations, which are based on a model town law created by the state with the participation of Clifton Park and other communities, would codify rules that require special attention is given to projects proposed on agricultural land, Scavo said.
The Clifton Park moratorium does not appear to have dramatically slowed solar development in the town. Scavo said there was just one proposed project in the pipeline at the time the moratorium was adopted, noting the project has mostly been dealing with federal approvals in recent months so has not been delayed by the town moratorium. He said another interested developer has contacted him with questions about the moratorium.
Barrett said the moratorium was “temporary” and rejected the notion that Clifton Park was banning solar development; he said town officials aimed to find the right balance between property rights and broader development concerns, while offering residents and potential developers the most up-to-date rules possible. He said he hoped the town would not need to extend the moratorium after the current three-month extension.
“There still is substantial interest,” Barrett said of solar development in the town.