October 20, 2021

Solon Town Board passes solar law

Solar Panel Stock photo

Metro Creative stock image

SOLON — The Solon town board unanimously passed a law Monday night to regulate solar projects built within the town limits.

One such proposal is already in the works — a $90 million, 90-megawatt project on about 600 acres, about a third of which is in Solon, while the rest is in the towns of Homer and Cortlandville. The project, backed by EDF Renewables, is large enough to be governed by the state Article X law, which must take into account local laws and preferences regarding large utility projects. Overseen by the Public Service Commission, Article X must also consider safety, environmental and public health safety measures, but leaves final approval in the hands of the state, not municipalities.

Solon’s solar law
The new law 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.

Major solar projects would also require:

  • Site plan review.
  • A recommendation from the town planning board.
  • A special permit.
  • A maximum height of 15 feet. Minor projects are also restricted to 15 feet in height.
  • 100-foot setbacks from the centerline of roads
  • 500-foot setbacks from adjoin- ing property lines unless waived by adjoining landowners.
  • 1,000-foot setbacks from regulated wetlands.
  • Solar installations “to prevent reflective glare toward any inhabited buildings on adjacent properties and roads.”
  • A landscaped buffer.

The new Solon law, while offering a few guidelines for small home-based solar projects, focuses on regulating commercial installations occupying more than 3,000 square feet, requiring that such projects obtain town- issued permits, which 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 generated, according to a Cortland County Planning Department analysis. If roughly a third of the EDF project is located in Solon, the price tag, based on the planning department metric, would come to about $1.3 million.

In October, the town declined to participate in payment in lieu of taxes agreement that would have provided EDF Renewables tax breaks for the project.

Jack Honor, a development manager for EDF Renewables, said this morning his company will proceed with the project as planned. The permit fee would not be applicable to the project, because EDF Renewables plans to seek approval through Article X, which does not require the project to obtain a local building permit.

But he said the setback requirements were “a little bit burdensome,” especially the 1,000-foot wetland setback, and would reduce the amount of land available for the project. He said EDF Renewables would seek a state waiver.

“The wetland setback doesn’t make sense to us,” Honor said.

John Soshinsky, who owns one of the properties proposed as a site for the project, criticized the town law for what he saw as onerous permit fees and setback requirements.

The permit fee is excessive, he said, and would “drive this company away from Solon.” He predicted that EDF Renewables, in order to avoid the fee, would simply move the Solon portion of the project to other properties in Cortlandville or Homer.

Soshinsky also said the law’s 1,000-foot setback provision for wetlands was unreasonable and would conflict with state-mandated runoff diversion requirements.

He said EDF was a company the town could work with for the bene t of the town and the local school district.

“Cortland County desperately needs this kind of project to get some money in this area,” he said.

But town Supervisor Steve Furlin said the town needed to take a stand against both the state and the energy company. The townspeople, he said, “still don’t want this project.”

“I want to make it clear that we did not invite EDF into the community,” Furlin said. “New York state and the governor did.”

The town board had a responsibility, he said, to protect the town’s rural character.

Also speaking in favor of the law: Chris Bushnell, who started out the meeting as a resident only to be sworn in later as the replacement for board member Michael Petrella, who resigned late last year.

“Don’t buckle under to these guys. They’re in it for the money,” said Bushnell during the public hearing. “They’re in it for the public money that they’re going to get.”

Later in the meeting, the board voted to appoint him to fill out Petrella’s term. He was then sworn in, took a seat at the board’s table and voted on the new law, which the board passed as proposed.