Guilderland amends solar law to preserve views

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair
Donna Abbruzzese, seated in a golf cart, at her family’s Orchard Creek Golf Course.

GUILDERLAND — The town last week amended its solar law to include assessment of “visual impacts” while the project that helped to spur the change has been moved to preserve the view of the Helderbergs for which citizens had advocated.

Joseph Muia had planned to have a five-megawatt solar array featuring more than 10,000 solar panels installed on his property next to the golf course on Dunnsville Road.

A citizens’ group, Save Our View, formed  to protest the proposal and to advocate for changes in the town’s law on siting solar arrays.

John Abbruzzese — who with his brothers owns Altamont Orchards, an apple farm that became a golf course and event venue — hoped to swap land with Muia to let him have the solar array built in a place that wouldn’t mar the view.

The initial handshake deal fell through in February but this week Donna Abbruzzese, John’s wife, writes in a letter to the Enterprise editor, “With the help and support of neighbors, friends, the Altamont and Guilderland community, and others, both near and far, our efforts have been successful!

“Joe Muia has agreed upon a plan to move the proposed solar array from his field fronting Dunnsville Road to property on the other side of the hill; there will be deed restrictions on the property fronting Dunnsville Road to prevent commercial development and preserve the Helderberg viewshed. A contract has been negotiated with a verbal agreement, awaiting signatures and closing date.”

Neither Abbruzzese nor Muia could be reached for comment.

On April 21, the Guilderland Town Board unanimously passed the amendments to its solar law. Because of coronavirus restrictions, the meeting was filmed on video. No one spoke at the public hearing unlike the initial session on the amendments when more than a score of residents had voiced concerns about improperly placed solar arrays.

The board first took a vote, making a “negative declaration” on the State Environmental Quality Review, meaning an in-depth environmental study wasn’t needed.

Before casting her vote in favor of the newly amended solar law, Councilwoman Laurel Bohl praised Supervisor Peter Barber for being “quick and reactive to residents who were asking for this.”

She went on, “It’s a good balance between solar energy, which everyone wants, and we’re encouraging and respecting the environment at the same time … I think Guilderland’s kind of a leader on this.”

The other board members, before casting their votes, echoed her praise for Barber and for the residents who had spoken out.

Barber himself said the law is “responsive to residents” and added, “It’s also very important to recognize you can’t always be responsive to every concern … It’s a balancing act and I do think what was pretty apparent is the town, through its Community Choice Aggregation plan, when we’re going toward renewable energies is going to be primarily solar.

“What we want to make clear on this is we are encouraging solar facilities in our town but we just want [them] to be properly sited.”

Barber noted he had received more than 80 “very nicely done” postcards from Save Our View and thanked the group for its efforts.

This week, Barber told The Enterprise that town board members had been discussing changes in the law for “quite some time” since “other communities were having issues.”

He noted that, as solar is becoming far more efficient and higher megawatts are coming from a smaller number of panels, there had been concern in the town that small lots could be used for commercial arrays.

The citizens’ uprising, he said, was “the impetus getting us to the final line.”

The additions to the law include a statement of the town’s support of the state’s renewable energy goals to have 100 percent of New York’s energy needs generated from a renewable source by 2040.

The new law states that a major solar energy system has to undergo a visual impact assessment that considers “residential properties, public roads, known important views or vistas, and historic and cultural places.”

It also says that major solar energy systems must have landscaping plans that show how the mechanical equipment and arrays will be screened from view “to the maximum extent practicable.”

The law also addresses noise, setbacks, fencing, utility connections — generally to be installed underground — and safety.

And the law requires that major solar energy systems have a decommissioning plan; arrays are to be decommissioned within six months if they no longer generate and transmit electricity under 10 percent of capacity over the course of a year. The town is to be reimbursed for any removal costs.

Barber concluded, “I believe we came up with a local law to support solar energy while being mindful of vistas and scenic views.”

More Guilderland News

  • All Guilderland schools, including the middle school and high school with new coronavirus cases, are remaining open for in-person instruction.

  • Borrego Solar is seeking variances to be able to clear-cut more trees than code allows and to have its solar panels located closer to all the neighbors’ property lines than what is currently allowed by law, which was one of the reforms included in the April amendments package to the town’s solar law.

  • During the pandemic, many Lynnwood Elementary students had been through “levels of trauma,” said their art teacher, Krista Gillis. She came up with a project that would show them, on their return to school, “They belong here and we love them.”

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