K’hook climate group seeks fewer limits on solar farms

VALATIE–The Kinderhook town Smart Climate Committee met Tuesday to review proposed changes to the town’s zoning laws for solar panels, generating debate over solar farms between committee members and Town Code Enforcement Officer Wayne Voss.

The town currently has a moratorium on ground-mounted solar panels, which includes solar farms, while the town considers how it should regulate them. A solar farm is defined in the proposed changes to local zoning laws as “a large-scale or utility-scale solar energy system that is ground mounted and produces energy primarily for the purpose of offsite sale or consumption.”

The town Codes Committee, which reviews zoning laws, has already looked at local laws and suggested changes, Supervisor Pat Grattan said at the March 21 meeting. He plans to send changes recommended by the Climate Committee to the town attorney for review, with the final decision on amendments to the law made by the Town Board. He did not say when the Town Board would review the changes.

The Town Board also expects to adopt the state Unified Solar Permit law. According to the intent and purpose section of the zoning law on solar energy equipment, the state plan would “provide a safe, reasonable and efficient regulatory process for those residents and businesses seeking to install solar energy panels on their homes and buildings.”

The Climate Committee asked that the part of the zoning law that prohibits solar farms in all zoning districts be removed.

Committee member Mark Leinung said he didn’t feel that solar farms should be banned, especially since there are already laws for setbacks and the town Zoning Board of Appeals would have to grants a special use permit for that type of facility.

But Mr. Voss said that allowing solar farms is “not a good idea.” He talked about Kinderhook being an agricultural town and that the land should not go to companies that would not increase the tax base. He said the only people making money on a solar farm are the property owners and utility companies. He also worried that once the life of the equipment over in 20 years or companies go out of business, the panels would be abandoned on the property.

“Once you open the door, you open the door,” he told the committee.

Committee member Kim Grey said she also had concerns that as solar technology becomes more ubiquitous solar farms would become obsolete. She worried about materials being left behind.

“If you are going to let them in, you’re going to need a lot of rules,” said Mr. Voss.

So the board asked for changes in the regulations in certain zones in the town. Companies looking to put up solar farms would need a special use permit from the town ZBA in all zones, including residential, business and industrial areas; the facilities would not be allowed in hamlets.

The committee also asked that the limit of 15 acres for a solar farm be dropped. Committee members do not want to have any maximum or minimum acreage in the law.

They also discussed the part of the law about “sufficient screening” for the panels on solar farms, and kept much of the wording there that a company must “minimize the solar farm from being seen in all seasons from all abutting properties and public roads.”

There is a section of the law that deals with penalties if codes are not followed, and the committee also suggested a number of other technical and land use changes.

At the end of the meeting, Ed Simonsen, the town’s representative on the county’s Environmental Management Council who is not on the committee but commented on the changes, said he thought the proposed code was good for the town.

“The more solar panels there are the less coal we burn,” he said during the meeting.

The Smart Climate Committee will meet again on March 30 at 7 p.m. in the Martin H. Glynn Municipal Building. The Town Board will meet on April 3 at 7 p.m.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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