Rensselaerville proposes law on small- and large-scale solar

— Enterprise file photo

Solar panels on the McKownville Methodist Church at 1565 Western Ave. in Guilderland.

RENSSELAERVILLE — Rensselaerville is nearing the finish line on its solar law, having obtained Albany County Planning Board approval in October and awaiting a Dec. 15 public hearing before the town board considers adoption.

The town’s proposed solar law would allow residential solar projects that generate no more than 25 kilowatts almost anywhere in the town while prohibiting large-scale solar farms from the town’s hamlet as well as in the Crystal Lake district.

The town’s zoning is broken up into four categories: agricultural/rural residential land; the hamlet; Resource Conservation Districts 1, 2, and 3; and Crystal Lake.

Small-scale solar projects — which are defined in the law as being those that generate no more than 25 kilowatts, or 120 percent of a site’s annual energy use — would be allowed in all of these districts, but roof-mounted panels in the hamlet and Crystal Lake district would require site-plan approval, while ground-mounted panels in the same zoning categories would require site-plan approval and a special-use permit.

Large-scale solar projects — any larger than the small-scale parameters allow, with no limit to capacity and only a 20-foot height limitation — would not be allowed in the hamlet or the Crystal Lake district under any circumstance. They would be allowed in all other zoning districts but would require both a special-use permit and site-plan review.

The bill also applies to modifications made to any existing solar farms that would result in a 5-percent increase in the total area of the farm.

 

Large-scale project requirements

The bill places no limit on the total area a large-scale solar farm could occupy, but farms larger than 10 acres would be required to assess the visual impact of the system on public roadways and adjacent properties as well as submit a landscaping and screening plan to the town’s planning board that shows the measures that would be taken to minimize the visual impact. 

According to the proposed law, all solar panels must be coated with anti-reflective material that restricts glare from reaching roadways or neighboring properties.

Large-scale project developers building on agricultural lands would be required to “develop, implement, and maintain native vegetation to the extent practicable pursuant to a vegetation management plan by providing native perennial vegetation and foraging habitat beneficial to game birds, songbirds, and pollinators.”

Large-scale projects would be restricted to 20 feet in height with a minimum front, side, and rear setback of 100 feet for large ground-mounted projects.

All mechanical equipment for large-scale projects would be required to be fenced in accordance with the national electrical code, but the proposed law sets a minimum fence height at seven feet.

Large-scale solar projects require a decommissioning plan that lays out the methods for the project’s eventual removal, a plan to restore the lot once the project is gone, and a cost-analysis of these items.

 

Small-scale project requirements

The small-scale system requirements set forth by the bill would not apply to systems that contain less than 25 square feet of panels.

Small-scale systems are capped at a height of 15 feet, or, for roof-mounted systems, two feet above a roof.

Roof-mounted systems would be required to be set back by at least three feet from the edge of a roof and its peak to ensure access for firefighters. The maximum distance between panels on a roof-mounted system set forth in the law is eight inches.

Ground-mounted systems would be permitted only in side- and backyards and must be constructed to “reasonably” reduce impact on neighboring properties.

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