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By Lacey Gardner

Op-Ed: Rural communities are not prepared for solar farm development

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Suggestions to better prepare for the coming wave of solar energy projects

By Marc Rowley, Livingston County NY

The Andover, NY Solar farm article demonstrates how small rural communities are not prepared to protect themselves and the residents from liabilities that are present. Remember the Rexville wind turbine fire?

I do not expound on theories, popular beliefs, or conjecture. Just the published facts from actual measurements, experience, and the published requirements from NYS, OSHA, NFPA, IEEE, and the NEC just to name a few.

There are so many facets to a solar installation it is impossible to cover all of them here, so let me provide you with a “high-level” approach that communities need to ask the solar developer, the landowner, and the local governmental body.

Do the required reading and research. So where do you start?

#1. Is there a Local Law on Solar Energy, Battery Storage and Wind Turbines? If your city, village, or town does not have one then seek out other local governments that do have them. Some are 3 to 7 pages and other are 20 plus pages. The best ones I have read so far is the Town of West Sparta and the Town of Ossian. Find one that you like and modify it to address your needs and get it into your local law. If you are in a hurry, then draft a moratorium and get that passed into your local law to stop the building of the solar farm until you have a chance to review and address your community concerns.

#2. Read the “New York Solar Guidebook” for Local Governments. https://www.nyserda.ny.gov/All-Programs/NY-Sun/Communities-and-Local-Governments/Solar-Guidebook-for-Local-Governments

#3. Concerning Farmland, read https://www.nyserda.ny.gov/-/media/Project/Nyserda/Files/Programs/NY-Sun/2023-Solar-Installations-in-Agricultural-Lands.pdf
This is very important as farmland could be re-assessed and deemed “unproductive” if all the conditions apply. Farmland owners could end up paying the local assessor the difference for declassification.
Generally speaking, “Prime Farmland” is just that. Prime. You cannot build solar, battery storage or wind turbines. Check the assessment. For the Andover, NY solar farm, Allegany County has this map, https://www.alleganyco.gov/wp-content/uploads/13_PrimeFarmlandSoils.pdf
What do you see?

#4. What is the size of the Solar Energy Installation? There are typically only 3 classifications of installations. Tier 1 are roof or building mounted solar panels. Tier 2 ground mounted solar systems that do not exceed and output of 24.99 Mw. Tier 3 is ground mounted solar energy systems that are 25Mw or greater in output. Tier 3 systems fall into a NYS “Article 10” classification, and you need to be well versed about the policies concerning these large systems. Article 10 does not address your local liabilities and having a local law for solar, battery and wind is crucial. https://www.nyserda.ny.gov/All-Programs/Clean-Energy-Siting-Resources/Siting-for-Large-Scale-Renewables/Article-10

Marc Rowley is a planning board member in a small town near Dansville NY. He can be reached at marc.rowley@twc.com.

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