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August 11, 2020 - 10:36pm

In the hopes of curbing some state power over solar farms, Town of Alabama adopts solar ordinance

posted by Howard B. Owens in Town of Alabama, news, solar farms, notify.

If solar farms are coming to the Town of Alabama, local officials have determined that they would rather have some local control than letting the state have all the power.

Monday night, the town board approved a local ordinance that will allow the town to set some parameters on solar farms and perhaps keep the largest of them off good farmland.

"The planning board struggled with this over the months and months," said Supervisor Robert Crossen. "The town board did, too. None of us are about losing farmland but we with Article 10 saying this will happen, I guess my view is that this is part of what you have to do to stay in the game. If we don't participate in it, then we won't have a lot to say."

In other words, without adding Section 624 to the town code, the town won't have any say in the planning and siting of solar farms in the town.

Article 10 of the Public Service Law, passed in 2011, lays out the process for permitting new major electric-generating facilities, giving the responsibility for permitting and siting resides with the State Energy Siting Board. Without local building codes, local jurisdictions have no say in the size, scope, location, setbacks, visual screens, or decommissioning plans for the facilities.

"Our regulation attempts to put a footprint in the sand and say this is what we’d like to see," Crossen said after the meeting.

While the new law sets code standards for small installations for the personal use of solar energy on residential, commercial, and farm property, the key aspects of the new law cover what are considered Tier 3 and Tier 4 solar farms.

A Tier 3 installation is one of up to 1,500 square feet but generates more than 110 percent of the electricity used by the property it is installed on.

A Tier 4 installation is more than 50 acres in size.

Crossen said the town hopes it can use the new law to avoid large industrial installations but indicated the final decision will be part of the Article 10 process.

The town put in place a moratorium on new solar farms while it reviewed its options and Crossen said now that the new law is in place, he expects to see applications flowing in.

"We are well aware that there are many companies that are ready to propose many projects," Crossen said.

There are potential economic benefits to the town, in the form of fees (perhaps as much $5,500 per megawatt), as well as the county and the school district, for any commercial solar projects installed in the town.

The new ordinance also requires large projects to negotiate a host community agreement that should generate additional revenue for the town.

The sole resident to speak at the public hearing prior to Monday's town board meeting was resident Dave Bencic who questioned the town's commitment to protecting farmland by enacting a law that would permit solar farms on prime farmland.

Trustee Kevin Fisher recalled all the work that went to creating the town's farmland protection regulations but conceded town officials were hemmed in by state law.

"So much for home rule," Fisher said.

"So much for home rule, correct," Crossen said. He then called for the motion to adopt the new law. It passed unanimously.

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