New harvest: New Scotland gets ready for solar farms

NEW SCOTLAND — Energy companies have recently been developing commercial solar farms in rural Albany County, but New Scotland has been insulated from that demand since it hasn’t allowed solar projects on a large scale until it has a local law on the books.

Now it has its first draft of a law ready for public comment.

“It’s not like there’s an avalanche… but there is a healthy interest,” Supervisor Douglas LaGrange said of the interest from commercial solar developers.

The town’s proposed law would apply to both large-scale, commercial-sized projects and small-scale, residential-sized panels, although there has been no prohibition on residential installation as there has been on big projects.

Interest in residential panels has been on the rise, with 32 solar permits issued in the last two years, according to Jeremy Cramer, New Scotland’s building inspector. There were 17 in the previous two years.

The proposed law is divided into two parts — one for small-scale and the other for large-scale projects — and it is based largely on a model local law to govern solar energy, with adjustments made specifically for New Scotland. Those adjustments in the large-scale section are aimed primarily at preserving farmland and open space.

No large-scale projects will be permitted on land that has prime soils or has more than an acre of mature forest. Applicants can submit material to show that soils on a proposed site are not prime or have poor drainage.

“We want to be able to guide it away from prime farmland,” LaGrange said of commercial solar development.

His own farmland, which stretches into Bethlehem, is currently under contract with an energy company that will build a solar field on about 10 acres to collect energy for the Bethlehem Central School District.

Some large landowners in New Scotland have been approached by solar developers, too, LaGrange said.

Cramer estimated that he’s gotten between eight and 10 applicants asking about large-scale solar developments over the last year and a half.

Whether or not the town will collect property taxes on the development of these potential new solar farms is another issue that the town will address along with the law itself.

In an effort to encourage solar energy development, New York State law exempts solar panels from being included in the calculation of property tax, unless a local government opts out, allowing it to collect property taxes with the solar panels included.

Opting out of that section of state law affects both residential and commercial solar projects, according to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance.

However, New Scotland may be able to preserve the exemption for residential projects and effectively collect taxes on commercial projects through a PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, agreement with large-scale solar developers.

LaGrange said this week that his preference would be to opt out of the law, allowing the town to collect property taxes with solar equipment included.

“Does the Town of New Scotland want to be the capital of solar in Albany County? No,” said LaGrange of the possibility of attracting solar farms to increase the tax base. “If they come, they come. If they don’t, they don’t. We just want to be prepared.”

A public hearing on both issues is scheduled for June 14 at Town Hall starting at 6 p.m.

Other business:

In other business at the town board’s May 10 meeting, the board:

— Voted unanimously to lease the Voorheesville Area Ambulance building to the Albany County Sheriff;

— Voted unanimously, with several board members expressing reluctance, to provide water and sewer service to new residential developments;

— Voted unanimously to abandon an unused and unmaintained portion of Old Clarksville Road;

— Voted unanimously to realign a section of Hilton Road near the rail trail;

— Voted unanimously to hire Mark Weber and Robert Denman to work for the highway department for the summer at an hourly rate of $12.50;

— Agreed that the highway department should request quotes for a new roof on the highway garage; and

— Voted unanimously to appoint Robert Davies as an alternate member of the planning board.



More New Scotland News

  • The New Scotland solar law’s prime-soil and soils-of-statewide-importance provisions make siting a solar project in town nearly impossible. 

  • The Voorheesville Central School District in a letter to parents said that “based on the timing of when” a person newly diagnosed with COVID-19 was “last at school, the Albany County Department of Health has indicated no need for further action, on behalf of the school, to have school community members quarantine.” 

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