FULTONVILLE — A representative with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority met with the Town of Glen Planning Board to review a model solar energy local law during the board’s workshop Tuesday.
The expertise from NYSERDA will help the planning board create its own proposed solar energy law to govern the clean energy facilities in the town.
Frank Mace, the senior project manager of the NYSERDA program NY-SUN, reviewed the model solar energy local law, which is a template for municipalities, with planning board members during the workshop.
A goal of NY-SUN is to help make it possible for New Yorkers to choose clean energy while lowering their energy costs. The program is a component of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision that looks to create a cleaner, more resilient and more affordable energy systems for New York residents.
The town of Glen’s creation of solar energy laws for the commercial use of solar systems would allow for the systems’ permitted use in the Glen Industrial Business Park, although the park would first need to be rezoned. Currently, commercial solar facilities can be built in the town with a special use permit.
Mace advised the board to review the NYSERDA model law, examine the town’s situation and adopt the regulations that make the most sense for the municipality.
“The first thing I want to make clear is that everything is up to the local authority, having jurisdiction in New York state,” Mace said. “It’s not a top-down event. It’s what you decide for your local community.”
Mace went over sections of the model law with the planning board. Section five of the law details the general requirements for solar facilities, including building permits. Another portion of the section deals with accommodations for solar systems. Protecting a system’s access to sunlight is also encouraged, but it must be in accordance to a municipality’s zoning law.
“Some people want that,” Mace said. “It’s kind of hard for some people to put out a $6 million, $10 million investment, and somebody builds something right in front of it and it’s going to shade the system. Some people do that. Some people do it through setbacks. They make the property set back so far into the property, therefore they’ve created their own window.”
The State Environmental Quality Review Act is also required under the rules by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and is detailed in section five. SEQR requires state and local government agencies to consider environmental impacts along with social and economic factors during discretionary decision-making.
Section nine of the model law that pertains to safety requirements was also discussed during the workshop. Under section nine, solar energy systems need to be maintained in working order and in accordance with industry standards.
Mace also advised the planning board to update the town’s master plan and zoning regulations.
“Before you finish your model solar law, you want to coordinate that with your other regulations in your master plan to make sure there is nothing in conflict,” Mace said. “The other tip we always like to tell people is don’t write something down twice, because if something changes and you don’t change the other one, then you have a conflict. It’s important to stay away from putting in things in your local laws that are already in the codes. For example if you say we need to have a seven-foot fence around all of our solar farms in the town, the National Electrical Code requires that. If the code changes to seven foot six inches, and you have it at seven, you now have a conflict. Sometimes less is more.”
Planning board members were also allowed to ask questions and raise their concerns with Mace regarding solar facilities.
Sandra Hemstreet, secretary of the planning board, asked where to start with the model law to make it their own.
“I would start by tagging a committee,” Mace said. “A kind of advisory group that would make recommendations.”
Mace suggested reaching out to community members to get their input and see where they stand with solar facilities.
Board member Nancy Langdon asked if there were hazards from building solar facilities in the town and how they will affect the environment.
Mace said the chemicals are used in the process are not harmful.
“The chemicals that are used in the solar process are only released under extremely high temperatures,” Mace said. “It’s not that of a wood fire. It’s not that of a structure fire, so those chemicals will stay intact in the panel throughout its life. It’s not going to leech into the ground.”
The land can also become farmable land again after a system is decommissioned because topsoil builds underneath the panels, Mace said.
During use, the land can also help the environment and surrounding farms. Pollinator-friendly crops can be planted in between the rows of solar panels to increase pollinators, like bees, which in turn increase the yield of crops on adjacent properties, Mace said.
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