December 2, 2021

Solon set to vote on solar law requiring permit, fee

Solar Panel Stock photo

Metro Creative stock image

The Solon town board will consider a new law Monday night that would require a special permit for major solar projects constructed in town.

A public hearing on the proposed law will be 6:30 p.m. at Solon Town Hall, followed by the town board’s meeting at 7 p.m.

The proposed law is not a theoretical matter — EDF Renewables, an international energy company, proposes to build a 90-megawatt, $90 million, 600-acre project on properties in the towns of Solon, Cortlandville and Homer.

The town’s authority to limit large solar projects, however, is limited. Large projects are governed by a state Article X process, overseen by the Public Service Commission. The process requires a variety of safety, environmental and public health safety measures — including consideration of local laws — but leaves final approval in the hands of the state, not the municipalities.

But Solon is taking steps to exercise what little power it may have, said town Supervisor Steve Furlin.

The proposed law distinguishes between minor projects, or essentially home installations that make immediate use of the generated electricity and occupy less than 3,000 square feet, and major ones, or commercial ventures that sell electricity.

While restrictions on minor or home projects are fairly limited, major projects would be heavily regulated and require a special permit.

Permits for major projects would cost 20 cents per square foot of panel installed. Since the typical solar farm takes up 5 acres per megawatt, the proposed fee would cost about $43,500 per megawatt, according to a Cortland County Planning Department analysis.

The proposed law further stipulates that any major solar project be completed and functioning within 18 months of being issued a permit. If the project is not completed in that time, the town would give the operator or owner 180 days to finish. If the project were still not finished, the town would then require the operator or owner to decommission the project within 180 days, and require further steps to either bring the project back online or fully remove the project.

All solar projects in town would be restricted to 15 feet in height.

Major solar projects would require:

  • Site plan review.
  • A recommendation from the town planning board.
  • A special permit.
  • 100-foot setbacks from the centerline of roads.
  • 500-foot setbacks from adjoining property lines unless waived by adjoining landowners.
  • Solar installations “to prevent reflective glare toward any inhabited buildings on adjacent properties and roads.”
  • A landscaped buffer.

In a related move, the town board voted in October to opt out of a state process for a granting payment in lieu of taxes agreement.

The town board made that decision, said Furlin, because members felt the EDF solar project should be fully taxed like any other resident or business. Furlin said to offer the project a PILOT agreement would be unfair.

The proposed new law, he said, is the town’s attempt to protect itself from the energy company and the state government.

“Small towns are on the defensive,” he said.

Other small towns, Furlin said, have had large projects “rammed down their throats,” which he sees as “absolutely an infringement on the rights of these small towns.”

“What we’re doing is one thing at a time, so we get it right,” he said.