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Porter reevaluating new solar energy systems law

Sat, Dec 21st 2019 07:00 am

Capacity issues covering transmission lines, substations cited

Staff Reports

As more communities across Western New York continue to sign on to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s green energy campaign of energy alternatives – namely commercial utility solar installations – many are also contending with unfavorable reactions from residents and questions on capacity. Some are also now reconsidering their options.

Some, such as the towns of Cambria, Pendleton and Hartland in Niagara County, are considering large, industrial-scale, 25-megawatt operations numbering hundreds of acres in size, but have not yet moved on them due to community resistance. Others such as the Town of Grand Island in Erie County are moving ahead with construction of Tier 2 ground-mounted solar energy systems as now found along the I-190.

In Lewiston, the Town Board earlier approved a local law that allows primarily for construction of the Tier 2 ground-mounted systems. Two projects have already been approved and are en route to construction. However, the town, now facing opposition from residents, last month approved a six-month moratorium as it addresses the community resistance, plus the viability for future projects.

At recent Town Board sessions, Supervisor Steve Broderick indicated the capacity issue on older transmission lines and connecting substations would need to be reevaluated as the town considers its solar energy future.

Meanwhile in the Town of Porter, that municipality’s Town Board recently adopted Local Law No. 7 of 2019 covering solar energy systems and is now reviewing the language toward adoption of Local Law No. 8 – the Solar Energy Systems PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) law.

Interestingly, the town is already considering placing a moratorium on its month’s-old solar energy systems law, citing many of the concerns voiced in Lewiston.

“Yes, the Town Board needs to amend the local law,” said Peter T. Jeffery, code enforcement officer for the Town of Porter. “The law needs to be reevaluated.”

He said Porter has already received two applications thus far, both for Tier 2 ground-mounted systems covering some 60 acres each with a system capacity of up to 25 kilowatts. One project is considered for a property at 987 Lockport Road, while the second is eyed for the corner of Porter Center and Lake roads in the town’s northern end. No action has been taken on either proposal.

“Two special use permits were rejected; not complete. They didn’t meet the code,” he said.

Jeffery, who recently prepared a very detailed document, “Solar Energy System Information Facts,” now found on the town’s website (www.townofporter.net), reiterated the mindset of officials in Lewiston, as he commented, “The general public needs to know the difference in capacity,” with regard to both any planned utility solar installations as well as the condition/capacity of power lines and electrical substations in the towns and their viability of supplying power to the grid systems.

Jeffery said the town’s new solar energy systems measure includes three categories with respect to opportunities for lower-level electrical power generation. Included are:

•Tier 1 – Which allow for a roof-mounted solar energy system on residences and/or freestanding structures on a property (such as garage) and building-integrated solar energy systems.

•Tier 2 – Defined as “ground-mounted solar energy systems with a system capacity up to 25 KW AC or 1,750 square feet of total surface area of all solar panels on the parcel.” With this type of system, Jeffery said the property can “generate no more than 110% of the electricity consumed on the site over the 12 previous months.”

•Tier 3 – Those systems not included in tiers 1 and 2, and capable of generating from 0.25 megawatts through 24.9 megawatts of solar energy.

Jeffery said the 25-megawatt or larger solar-generated systems are not included in the town law, as New York state has removed that authority from municipalities. Known as industrial solar, he said the authority to regulate these types of systems falls to the state under Article 10 of the New York State Public Service Law.

He said the town does have oversight with respect to its solar energy systems law, both by additional stipulations placed on individual applications reviewed by the town’s Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. Further, he said that, under its community benefits provision, the town has authority with regard to limiting a total individual system’s electrical output produced by solar – 40% – and having other available options such as a PILOT benefit now under review by Porter.

In addition, the solar law contains provisions covering the impact on a property such as removal of trees and limits placed on any clear cutting.

And the measure includes a number of provisions covering the decommission of a solar installation on a residence or private property.

“Solar energy systems that have been abandoned and/or not producing energy for a period of six months shall be removed at the owner and/or operator’s expense, which at the owner’s option may come from any security made with the Town of Porter,” the measure reads.

“This also includes a bond requirement, after operation, to restore it (the lands) to prior use,” Jeffery said.

For rural agricultural areas, he noted New York State Ag and Markets law includes provisions calling for a two-year follow-up of a property following any decommissioning of a solar system to return the lands to their original state.

Finally, with regard to the problem of transmission line and substation capacity, an issue now being raised in Lewiston, Jeffery said National Grid allows for placement of solar energy systems in a community until they reach the capacity limit of their respective substations and transmission line equipment. If added capacity is required, National Grid will evaluate these and have the final determination on whether to upgrade or not upgrade.

He estimated the cost for transmission line upgrades and related equipment at $1 million per mile.

Jeffery said National Grid rep Marc Gschwend is expected to meet with Town of Porter officials on the aforementioned electrical transmission line/substation capacity issue and solar energy’s future in the town in early 2020. The matter is expected be discussed at a Jan. 13 Town Board meeting.

“We hope to have the answers for the public meeting and all the details,” Jeffery said.

For more on the town’s Solar Energy System law, visit www.townofporter.net.

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