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Town of Porter approves revised solar law

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Thu, Mar 25th 2021 10:10 am

Solar installations now limited to town’s industrial zones

Staff reports

The Porter Town Board approved Local Law No. 1 of 2021, addressing changes to the town’s solar energy systems law, at its March 8 session. The approval follows a board-imposed moratorium that was enacted on the law following community opposition last year.

At a public information session in early 2020, residents criticized the law’s permitting of tier 3 solar systems (those with a rated production capacity of 20 MW or greater) on agricultural lands, including working farms. Residents spoke of disruptions to the town’s agriculture interests and the negative impact on properties. Petitions were presented and argued, and the Town Board, like other communities contending with public opposition to solar, went on to impose a moratorium. It was since extended twice over the past year.  

Soon after, a committee of town officials and residents was organized. Its focus centered solely on the permitted areas for the larger tier 3 solar installations.

Other portions of the town’s solar law were not addressed and remain in place. Included are smaller-scale tier 1 roof-mounted and building-integrated solar systems, and tier 2 ground-mounted solar systems with a capacity of 25 kW AC or 1,750 feet total surface. Both are still permitted in all town zoning districts and fall within the state’s authorized community solar programs.

Following the committee’s recommendations, the town introduced Local Law No. 1 of 2021, which bars tier 3 permitting from all Town of Porter zoning districts except for industrial– namely M-1, light industrial; M-2, general industrial; and M-3, heavy industrial – where special use permits would be required. Those areas are found in the southeast areas of the town bordering the LOOW site.

The revised measure also established minimum lot sizes and set parameters, including lot size requirements; and adjusted minimum lot setback requirements, height restrictions and maximum lot sizes, among other conditions.

At a February public hearing on the proposed revision, attending residents strongly voiced their support for limiting solar to the industrial zones. The only opposition recorded came from developer Oya Solar of Toronto, who has been working with a local resident for the siting of a tier 3 facility on property adjacent to Lockport and Creek roads.

At the Town Board’s March 8 session, the continued public hearing featured remarks from Oya Solar rep Terence Rasmussen, who provided online comments via Zoom.

“The biggest issue is the zoning is (limited) to just industrial zones,” he said.

Rasmussen noted the town’s options for solar in the M-1 zoning district, such as the National Guard training center and Waste Management’s CWM Chemical Services facility (currently not operating), “are very small and make it very hard to put solar on.”

Instead, he reiterated his support for solar in other areas, such as on agricultural land and other properties in the town. He said the Creek Road property owned by Richard Shears, “would be good land to put a solar development on.”

 Rasmussen said there were “other things that he did not agree with” in the revised law. Board members elected not to respond to his suggestions.

Resident Brenda Bank of Lockport Road said comments at the February public hearing, “made it clear that a community like this is more interested in farming and keeping the community as it is right now.”

Town Supervisor John Duffy Johnston concurred.

“The reason that we do not want to replace that in our law is that, when we took this to the Niagara County Planning Board, they thought it was one of the best laws that they have seen in the county,” he said. “They are modeling other laws after our law. I do not want to adjust that part of it in the law. The Niagara County Planning Board highly approved this law.”

Councilman Tim Adamson, who served on the committee, said many visitors who attended the meetings did not want to see solar farms being put on agricultural land and supported the committee’s move to the M-1 and M-2 industrial zones.

“The solar committee members were 100% behind this,” he said.

After the public hearing closed, board members went on to declare a negative declaration to conform to State Environmental Quality Review procedures. What followed was a motion by Adamson, seconded by Councilman Zipp Ortiz, to approve and adopt the measure. Deputy Supervisor Jeff Baker recused himself from the vote.

“The new solar law for 2021 has been adopted and (is) effective immediately. It will now be sent to the secretary of state to be filed,” Town Attorney Mike Dowd said.

The board adjourned its session soon after.

Town officials said they have been in contact with Oya Solar officials following the vote, but did not elaborate.

•The Town of Porter contributed to this report.

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