Brighton considers regulating solar development

PAUL SMITHS — Brighton town Supervisor Peter Shrope told his council at their meeting Thursday that there is a growing movement in Franklin County to implement local zoning regulations for the development of solar energy.

Shrope attended a Jan. 29 meeting of town supervisors at which the town of Chateaugay supervisor asked his colleagues to support countywide laws to reguate solar development. Last month, the Chateaugay town council passed a six-month moratorium on all large-scale solar projects. Currently there are no solar regulations at the county level or in any Franklin County towns.

A 950-acre “solar farm” has recently been proposed in the town and village of Malone, noted Shrope. “Well,” said council member Brian McDonnell, “that’s big enough to see from space.” Shrope said that land is currently being farmed but that after the panels were installed there would be no other use of the property. The proposed solar installation is to be located near the junction of state routes 30 and 11B (Franklin Street).

According to New York state law, Shrope told his council, any company that proposes to build solar arrays only needs to adhere to local zoning laws. Brighton, the supervisor said, has no zoning regulations at all, which is the case for many other Franklin County towns as well.

Shrope said the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency is already looking into the creation of laws to regulate the solar industry.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has funded a resource guide called “Zoning for Solar Energy,” by Jessica Bacher and John Nolon of the Land Use Law Center at Pace Law School. The guide notes that land-use law is left to local municipalities because New York is a home-rule state. According to Bacher and Nolon’s guide, “Local officials who want to encourage solar energy systems should adjust the local land use system by first adding a solar energy component to the comprehensive plan or adopting a special solar energy policy or plan to guide the reform of land use regulations.”

The 29-page NYSERDA document advises towns about every aspect of the land-use regulation process. In addition to adopting zoning regulations, towns will likely want to amend any site-plan review measures that they have in place, especially if they are going to allow construction of larger-scale projects. The governing board of a town will also have to become familiar with the SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) process, and some towns may wish to establish zoning boards of appeals.

The state’s 2015 Solar Energy Products Warranty Act encourages solar development: “The legislature hereby finds and declares that the use of renewable energy technologies, such as solar energy, within the state should be encouraged to the maximum extent possible.”