CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — The Town Board Monday approved a six month moratorium on ground-mounted solar facilities producing more than 25 kilowatts of capacity.
The resolution implementing the moratorium received unanimous approval from the board at the conclusion of a public hearing that drew just two written comments from the public and little discussion among board members.
The board action prevents any review or deliberation on solar projects for the stated six month time frame. It supersedes and suspends portions of New York State Town Law which sets forth timeframes and default deadlines for such project approvals.
The idea of a moratorium gained support with residents and later with board members after the town began receiving a surge of project applications beginning in June of 2018. Since that first application for a community solar array on Ashdown Road, the town has reviewed and approved five other large solar arrays for undeveloped or former farm parcels in the western part of the community.
Writing in support of the moratorium was the Friends of Clifton Park Open Space. The group submitted a letter to the Town Board on Monday that said; though it does not oppose solar power it believes the projects in the community should conform to the town code regarding Conservation Residential Zoning.
Noting that five of six private commercial solar projects approved in the town are found in CR zones, the group asked that a study be commissioned focused on the impact of solar projects in the area covered by the Western Generic Impact Study which established the CR Zones.
“Balanced development of C.R. Zone, intended by the Code, is an imperative,” the letter stated.
To compensate for the loss of open space the Friends group requested that any study of commercial solar projects in the zones focus on three open space compensation and mitigation alternatives found in the town code. The alternatives referenced included conditions and safeguards as attached to special use permits for the projects, community benefits and amenities, and PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) funds.
The town has sought PILOT agreements on several of the solar projects but, the Friends said, the funds generated do not compensate the town’s CR zone for the loss of the community’s open space.
“Therefore,” the group stated, “the current approach does not advance the goal of preserving the rural character of the district. A private gain becomes a loss for all citizens.”
The Friends suggested also that the Town Board consider requiring a solar mitigation fee as part of any negotiated PILOT package from a solar project.
As part of their letter submitted for Monday’s public hearing, the Friends referenced a memo it sent to the Town Board last July. In that memo the group expressed its frustration with the review process for solar projects and requested the town establish a process to review them “with the importance of open space in mind”.
“Hold these projects to the same standards for open space preservation and protection as other development projects in the Conservation Residential Zone,” the group wrote.
At Monday’s meeting Supervisor Philip Barrett acknowledged the influx of solar projects to the town and noted that the state has a very aggressive initiative to see that green energy proliferates across the state.
“And they have a tremendous amount of money available to subsidize these projects as they come forward,” he said. “The objective of the moratorium is to take a pause, a step back, reassess, and analyze how the processes of these applications have progressed and see if there are any questions that have risen during those processes that we should address through a study and then decide on any alteration to the Code as we move forward.”
The moratorium is expected to produce a study with recommendations.