ANCRAM—This town “intends to benefit from the experience of others” in its new proposed Zoning Law on Solar Energy Systems.
Ancram has been paying attention to what is going on in the Town of Copake with regard to Hecate Energy’s controversial proposed 60-megawatt photovoltaic solar farm, called Shepherd’s Run in Craryville, a hamlet in the Town of Copake.
Hecate’s Copake proposal includes the installation of 200,000 solar panels on a 360-acre project area with the panels occupying 280-acres. The project is not permitted under Copake’s Zoning Law, yet it is moving forward because Hecate has bypassed local law and is seeking site approval from the New York State Siting Board, under procedures in Article 10 of the Public Service Law. Copake is now fighting legally to have its voice heard and to get Hecate to revise its project to comply with Copake Zoning Law.
Instead of Article 10 procedures, a utility-scale solar farm developer could opt for a more streamlined process, via Section 94-c of the State Executive Law and seek siting approval from a newly-created Office of Renewable Energy Siting. This process also bypasses local law.
Ancram’s Zoning Revision Committee (ZRC) has been working on the town’s new solar law since February 2020, according to Town Councilperson and ZRC Chair Hugh Clark, who introduced the law at the February 18 Town Board meeting. The committee’s task was “to ensure that standards for solar energy systems coincide” with the intent of the town’s 2019 Comprehensive Plan. The town’s current law is nothing more than a few paragraphs that address only roof- or pole-mounted small scale solar panels for residential use.
The new 33-page law was completed in conjunction with the town’s planning consultant Nan Stolzenburg of the Community Planning & Environmental Associates firm and Attorney John Lyons, who specializes in environmental and land use law.
In addition to all its goals, strategies and standards, the Ancram law, like Copake’s, prohibits utility-scale solar systems larger than 10 acres. But it also includes “a legal argument we hope never to have to use,” Mr. Clark said. “The ground rules within New York State are changing. Copake has learned that and we intend to benefit from the experience of others,” he told the Town Board.
Ancram’s new proposed solar regulations establish specific standards for environmental features deemed to be critical in Ancram. The new law “outlines a strong rationale for prohibiting large-scale solar energy generating systems.” It recognizes “that the NYS siting office has ultimate authority to approve such systems and could elect not to require compliance with the town’s prohibition against utility-scale solar facilities.”
If that were the case, the new law establishes that the siting office “must require compliance with NYS Agriculture and Markets Guidelines for Siting Solar Energy Projects and that they fully evaluate, and avoid or mitigate, damage to specifically identified resources in Ancram,” according to a memo to the Town Board from Mr. Clark.
In its deliberations on the new standards for solar energy generating systems and facilities, “the ZRC conducted a comprehensive analysis of solar energy generating systems in general, and their potential ‘fit’ within Ancram. This analysis included a town-wide GIS study to understand and evaluate where the landscape would likely support solar systems. Factors included slopes less than 10%, oriented to the south, distance to 3-phase electrical lines, on 10-acre parcels. Also identified were the intersection of those sites with sensitive environmental features in town. Maps were developed locating 21 different environmental and resource features to create 12 overall analysis layers ranging from unique habitats to significant biodiversity areas, and riparian sites, forest patches, and prime farmland soils,” according Mr. Clark’s memo.
The new law recognizes three types of solar energy systems: small-scale, community-scale, and utility-scale generating systems.
‘We intend to benefit from the experience of others.’
Ancram Town Board
Small-scale systems generate 25 KW or less and are rooftop or flush-mounted, ground-mounted and freestanding, and also include solar systems that are integrated into the building itself.
Community-scale solar systems cannot exceed 10 acres in size, which is sufficient space for about a 5 MW system while generally being compatible with Ancram’s environmental and community goals.
Utility-scale solar systems are larger than 10 acres and generate more or less than 20 MW. The new law prohibits these mega-systems throughout the Town of Ancram.
The complete law, memo and resolution related to the new solar energy systems law may be found on the Town of Ancram website at www.ancramny.org
The Town Board has scheduled a public hearing on the new solar law (Local Law #1 of 2021) Thursday, March 18 at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom prior to the March Town Board meeting. The Zoom meeting invitation is also posted on the Town website.