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Porter sets public hearing on 'Solar Energy Systems'

Fri, Feb 5th 2021 09:00 am

New local law places limits on permitted districts

Solar company rep speaks out against measure

Staff Reports

The Town of Porter will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 8, at Town Hall to consider Local Law No. 1 2021, titled “Solar Energy Systems.” The proposed measure is intended to address questions in the community that have arisen in the past year over what is known as Tier 3 Solar Energy Systems under the current town law.

Defined as “Solar Energy System(s) designed for a rated production capacity of 20 MW or greater,” under the current town law, Tier 3 systems had been permitted for construction and operation in vast areas of the town defined as rural agricultural – those encompassing large land areas such as farmlands and the like.

But due to community opposition voiced at a well-attended Town Board session last year, the board elected to place the town’s solar energy law in a moratorium phase – where it remains.

Tiers 1 and 2 are not affected under the new 2021 law and remain permitted. Tier 1 systems allow for roof-mounted and/or building integrated systems. Tier 2 include ground-mounted and allow for power generation of up to 25 kW AC and accommodating up to 1,750 square-feet in surface size.

The Tier 3 systems are impacted.

Following enacting the moratorium, the town organized a solar advisory committee comprised of Code Enforcement Officer Peter Jeffery, one Town Board member, one member each from the town’s Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, and town residents. Over the past several months – in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic – committee members met, reviewed the older measure, and deliberated the proposed changes.

Significant among them is the change covering permitted use for Tier 3 solar in the town’s nine zoning districts. The committee recommended removing Tier 3 completely from all but three of the districts – those covering M-1 – industrial, M-2 – general industrial and M-3 – heavy industrial with minimum lot sizes of 2.5 acres. Removed from consideration completely for Tier 3 are the following districts: RA – rural agricultural; LDR – low-density residential; WR – waterfront residential; MDR – medium-density residential; CMU – commercial mixed-use; and RC – rural commercial.

Town Supervisor John “Duffy” Johnston said he viewed the town’s industrial districts as suitable for future locations for Tier 3 solar. This includes areas found on the north and south sides of Balmer Road on the LOOW Site, and a small area east of Ransomville.

“There is room over there; it is close to the (transmission) lines. I feel this (the committee’s decision) was done properly,” he said.

Johnson noted the town has limited capacity with respect to its transmission lines, and limiting the solar locations to its industrial zones adjacent to established transmission lines was viewed as the most practical.

However, one solar developer who has been soliciting work in the town – OYA Solar NY, L.P., with offices in Toronto – has taken a different stand on the issue.

In a Feb. 2 letter to Johnston – intended to serve as the company’s formal comments for the Feb. 8 public hearing – OYA spokesman Terence Rasmussen expressed opposition to the measure. He said it conflicts with the community solar program benefits that continue to be promoted by New York state, and the town’s industrial zones available provide limited opportunity for solar development.

“The biggest single section of the Draft Law that limits Community solar is the requirement to use land zoned ‘industrial,’ ” Rasmussen wrote. “There is currently no industrial land available that is suitable for use by a community solar project.

“The land zoned M1, M2 or M3 … has only 4 large panels which are occupied by the Youngstown National Guard Training Site … and Chemical Waste Management … an active waste management facility. The remaining parcels are too small to support a solar project when setbacks and coverage ratios are applied. With no suitable land available, Community Solar and other Tier 3 solar is effectively banned in the Town.

“In addition to the zoning restriction, OYA has identified several other problematic sections of the draft.”

Most notable were OYA’s continued arguments for the return for rural agricultural zoning as a permitted use district.

“Otherwise this effectively bans Community Solar in the Town of Porter,” Rasmussen wrote.

The town announced Monday’s hearing at Town Hall would be open to the public with limited seating permitted.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, any comments will be written to the record or submitted to the Code Enforcement Officer (Jeffery),” prior to Feb. 6, Town Clerk Kara Hibbard said. “Space is limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. Written comments are strongly encouraged.”

Hibbard said comments should be emailed to Jeffery at [email protected].

•The Town of Porter contributed to this report.

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