DUANESBURG — Following months of work, a special committee tasked with reviewing and updating the town’s solar law has completed its work, and lawmakers are now poised to adopt the revisions in the coming weeks.
The Town Board, in a 4-0 vote earlier this month, agreed to set a public hearing on the updated ordinance after the committee tasked with reviewing and revising the law completed its work last month.
In 2016, the town adopted its original solar solar, which was revised last year. But concerns remained, and the town adopted a moratorium on solar arrays and formed a committee to research and update the law again. The moratorium, which was extended on multiple occasions, is set to expire in March.
“This is the product of thorough research and discussion among yourself and all members of the committee,” Greg Harkenrider, the committee’s chairman, wrote in a Nov. 30 letter addressed to Town Supervisor William Wenzel, that included a draft of the proposed changes.
A public hearing on the revised law has been scheduled for Jan. 26.
The proposed law includes a number of additions, including an entire section regulating small-scale energy systems and battery energy storage systems, and includes provisions addressing issues like deforestation, setbacks and panels on limiting panels on farmland.
“The law is intended to be impartial,” Harkenrider wrote in his letter. “It is neither eight pro-solar nor anti-solar.”
Members of the committee examined more than two dozen solar ordinances already on the books, and received input from community stakeholders through a series of public meetings that took place over several months throughout the year.
“We took a little bit longer but we had the discussion. It was more important to get it right than to try and rush it through,” Wenzel said.
Under the proposed law, utility solar arrays would be limited to the town’s R-2 Residential/Agricultural zoning district as well as the C-1 Commercial and C-2 Manufacturing and Light Industrial zones with a special permit and Planning Board approval.
Applicants would be required to complete bird and bat migration, nesting and habitat surveys and would be required to provide extra buffering to reduce visual impacts and glare from the panels, which would be limited to 15 feet in height and must be coated in an antireflective coating.
Large-scale solar arrays would be limited to 60% of lot coverage, and projects would be limited to using no more than 10% of mineral soils as classified by the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets. Panels would also be prohibited from being built on prime farmland.
Included in the proposed ordinance is a provision requiring applicants to create an escrow account to pay for the engineering, legal, environmental or planning costs in an amount that would be determined by the Planning Board.
“The escrow account shall be in an amount as determined by the Planning Board and shall be replenished when required by the the Planning Board,” the proposed law reads.
Applicants would also be required to enter into a “community host agreement” under the proposed law, which is a “public benefit fee to mitigate the additional burdens placed on the town as a result of the project.”
“The fee shall be utilized as a source of funding for prospective costs and expenses associated with and related to anticipated municipal services and additional infrastructure improvements to be provided as result of the project’s presence within the town,” the proposal reads.
Also included in the proposed law is a decommissioning plan that would require applicants to acquire a bond or security to cover 125% of the estimated cost to remove the solar panels and restore the property. The bond must include a 2% escalator or whatever the Consumer Price Index is, for the life of the solar energy system.
A number of local municipalities have adopted solar moratoriums in recent years in order to provide time to update or draft laws regulating the energy-producing systems. Rotterdam became the latest this week, when lawmakers there voted to adopt a 12-month moratorium.
Mounting local concerns about solar arrays come after state lawmakers in 2019 approved the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which set a number of goals to tackle climate change, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 85% below 1990 levels and requiring 70% of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030.
The state has been working to update is electrical grid in preparation of the push to renewables, which included unveiling a revamped substation off Gordon Road earlier this year. State officials have said the project’s completion is the halfway point for a new transmission line that will from from Utica to Albany the area that will up energy capacity by 500%.
A public hearing for the proposed solar law has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Duanesburg Town Hall, 5853 Western Turnpike.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-395-3120.
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