As solar arrays add battery storage, Westerlo mulls changes to law

— Photo from Clean Energy Collective
A solar array in Uxbridge, Massachusetts was developed by the company Clean Energy Collective, which wants to to do the same in Westerlo.

WESTERLO — A proposed law that would change who determines the money set aside for dismantling decommissioned solar arrays was debated last week in Westerlo, as solar arrays already approved by the planning board are reviewed again to include a new type of energy-storage system.

Last year, the town board approved a solar law that requires builders of commercial solar arrays to provide the town with a bond equal to no less than a fifth of the construction cost of the array to cover the costs of the town dismantling the system.

Last year’s law stated that the bond amount would be determined by the Westerlo Planning Board. The proposed amendment would have it be determined instead by the town board; the cost would no longer be based on the amount of construction but instead be determined by a third-party engineer hired by the applicant, although the estimate should be based on the “size and scope of construction of the solar farm.”

Planning board Chairwoman Dorothy Verch argued at a special town board meeting on Nov. 14 that it is the planning board’s purview to have an applicant submit his offered bond to the planning board and to have the town board oversee the planning board’s decision on the applicant and the bond.

Verch said the amendment is redundant because such recommendations on how to determine decommissioning costs are already specified by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

While there is no state law on decommissioning solar arrays, NYSERDA does offer guidelines for local municipalities and landowners, including on decommissioning large-scale solar energy systems.

Councilman Anthony Sherman responded that he doesn’t necessarily trust NYSERDA to have the town’s interests in mind, saying that the state authority has a goal to push certain programs in order to receive more funding.

The planning board, under Verch’s direction, is reviewing applications for four different commercial solar arrays. In a report on the planning board, given at the Nov. 5 meeting, Verch said that a public hearing on the arrays was held on Oct. 30 and will continue on Nov. 27.

Proposed arrays add battery storage

The proposed arrays are Constanza Solar with the arrays from Cypress Creek Renewables; Shepard Farms with the arrays from Borrego Solar; and Medusa Solar and Westerlo NY 1 from the organization Clean Energy Collective.

Verch told The Enterprise on Monday that the applications were submitted again after being approved over the spring and summer because of the new addition of a battery storage system that would help store excess energy to use when direct solar energy is not available or when more than usual is being used. The use of a storage system means that the State Environmental Quality Review application must be changed to include the storage system as well as changes in setbacks and other things due to its addition.

Both Cypress Creek Renewables and Clean Energy Collective said they would be using the storage systems but it is not yet clear if Borrego Solar will, said Verch.

Joseph Shanahan, the director of real estate and permitting for Clean Energy Collective, told The Enterprise on Monday that the company’s two proposed arrays — Westerlo NY 1 and Medusa Solar — had been approved months ago, but that a separate application for the new energy-storage system is now being reviewed.

“It’s new technology to the [solar] industry and then it’s certainly new technology for the local planning board,” he said.

Shanahan said the new system will act like a battery and hold excess energy that would have otherwise gone to waste; the energy will be used when sunlight isn’t as readily available. The system will sit on a 30-by-30-foot pad and will be no taller than the solar panels.

The two projects will be run as community solar companies and will allow members of the public to act as “shareholders” in the arrays in order to lower their utility bills, said Shanahan.

PILOTs approved

At its Nov. 5 meeting, the town board approved payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements for both Borrego Solar and Cypress Creek Renewables: Cypress Creek agreed to pay $8,686 per megawatt of energy generated with a 2-percent escalator over 15 years, and a $15,000 community host agreement; Borrego agreed to pay $7,500 per megawatt as well as offer $30,000 to a community host agreement.

Review period

The time span for reviewing the bond amount is also changed under the proposed amendment, and was under scrutiny at the special town board meeting on Nov. 14. The current law states that the bond amount would be reviewed by the planning board annually and adjusted if needed; the amendment would have it reviewed every five years by the town board.

During the public hearing on the law, resident Dianne Sefcik commented from the gallery that the amount of time should be more frequent, such as every one or two years; and if there is a change to the installed array, that should call for another review of the bond, she said.

Resident Leonard Laub agreed from the gallery, suggesting that the amendment state it add that a review be conducted upon a set amount of time “or upon any approved change to the installation.”

Sherman stated that the value of the array or its materials would not change in such a short length of time; if it did skyrocket in cost, it would only influence the owner to remove the materials in order to receive money for them, he said.

Others agreed on shortening the length of time for review, such as Verch, and Supervisor Richard Rapp noted that he felt two or three years would be doable. Councilman Joseph Boone later said that, while he liked most of the proposed amendment, after hearing the discussion he himself was not sure if he would approve of the proposed review period

Boone concluded that there had been “time and effort put in by many parties” and noted that some of those parties weren’t present at the Nov. 14 meeting, referring to Code Enforcement Officer and Deputy Supervisor Edwin Lawson.

Boone said it would be fair to include everyone involved, and it was agreed by the board to adjourn the hearing until the town board’s regular board meeting on Dec. 4 at 7 p.m..

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