We must ensure residents are protected from negative impacts of inappropriate land use

To the Editor:

We are responding to the comprehensive article “Berne board divided on solar moratorium for industrial-size arrays” in The Altamont Enterprise of Feb. 28, 2019. The article explored the issue of industrial solar development in the Town of Berne.

Industrial solar facilities are springing up across the country. The Hilltowns are no exception. Developers have indicated their willingness and desire to create solar facilities on large tracts of land formerly used for agriculture. Understandably so.

The desire for solar has risen exponentially in the past several years, and more and more installations are being erected in communities across the country in response to public demand for cleaner, less environmentally destructive energy.

The town of Berne adopted a residential solar law in February of 2018. The zoning guidelines established in that law ensured what all good zoning should do: the protection of the health, safety, and general welfare of the people residing in the town and the community at large. The law accomplishes this while at the same time, allowing those wishing to partake in the advantages of solar energy for their homes to do so.

We are now in the process of developing a comprehensive law that will guide the development of industrial solar in the town. Our goal is the same.

We must ensure, to the very best of our ability, that all residents and our community, are protected from the negative impacts of inappropriate land use. We must try to ensure that property values and community character are protected, that unintended consequences are minimized, and that the orderly development of the land within our boundaries is accomplished through carefully-wrought legislation.

Thorough research takes time, especially with an industry that is as new as industrial solar. We have worked diligently to explore the industry to see what issues surround it. What lawsuits have evolved related to industry practice? What issues have beset the land owners on whose property they’ve been installed? What problems have plagued the installations themselves? What are the implications for the community, and for the immediate neighbors of the facility? Which of these issues require inclusion in zoning laws?

These broad issues break down into simple questions: What is the process for decommissioning unusable panels filled with toxic chemicals, who is responsible for the costs of decommissioning, how long may a facility remain idle, who pays for and restores the land on which such a facility it is located? What guidelines will help protect and preserve neighbors and the community at large: setbacks, screening from view, access roads, etc.

Some communities have been lax in their rush to get the job accomplished and have lost ground as a result. Others have been more thoughtful in their approach, and have more successfully accommodated such installations.

Our approach has been to carefully assess and analyze what will work best for Berne. It may take time — thorough research always does — but we understand whatever law is written will be on the books for a long, long time, and as a result, should be knowledgeably crafted.

Happily, we are well along with our research, and within close striking distance to writing a law that should serve the town and its residents well.

Berne’s citizens indicated their desire to preserve and protect Berne’s rural environment in the many workshops, surveys, and meetings held when the comprehensive plan was created. It is our hope, that with careful planning, we can develop the area without a negative impact on the precious resources so valued by our residents.

Karen Schimmer

Dawn G. Jordan

Joel Willsey

Members

Berne Town Board

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