Jul. 29—GASPORT — The Town of Hartland has a solar energy siting law on the books. It's a simple law. It doesn't allow any type of solar project covering more than 50 acres in the town and it has some setback guidelines for ground- and rooftop-mounted solar arrays.
It is also easily toppled by New York State in favor of regulations established by the Office of Renewable Energy Siting for utility scale solar projects, and a developer such as EDF Renewables would not be obligated to address any concerns that the municipality has about a project, if ORES overturns the local law.
Bob Harris, chair of the Hartland Planning Board, said it bluntly: "The law needed a lot more than tweaking. It is totally inadequate."
Harris decided in May to put forth a draft of a new solar siting law for the town. It would take into account the fact that EDF Renewables' Ridge View Solar Project has an interest and establish setbacks and screening requirements to ensure a drive through Hartland isn't one long road flanked by solar arrays.
The draft law was modeled after the solar siting laws of nearby towns including Somerset and Cambria, which have similar utility-scale projects coming their way. Those towns hired Wendel Engineering to draft their laws and, according to Harris, it didn't take much to copy the key points and adapt the draft for Hartland.
However well intentioned it was, town Supervisor Ross Annable said he was surprised by the planning board's initiative, noting he had not asked for a law to be drafted and has different plans.
"We have a community solar law," Annable said in a Thursday interview. "It doesn't allow large scale utility solar systems, but the state can override that."
Annable said the planning board's draft law is of similar cloth: the standards are too high, the setbacks too much. If the town swapped out its current law with the planning board's draft, the state would still override it for being overly burdensome to the developer, he said.
Annable said the town board already hired an experienced environmental lawyer from Buffalo, George VanNest, to develop a new solar siting law while working with EDF Renewables to negotiate where the panels and batteries would go, as well as tax incentives and host benefit agreements.
"EDF is willing to sit down and work out concerns," Annable said. "I think that's a good thing."
While Annable said that no one has called him to ask for a "sit-down" to talk about their concerns, he is open to such discussions.
Peggy Zaepfel, a member of the town Zoning Board of Appeals who attends the planning board meetings too, says that's not the impression she got. She acknowledges she's more than a spectator where solar siting law is concerned; the land that she rents to run her grass-fed beef business has been cut in half to make room for a Ridge View substation where batteries for the project would be placed.
One of the regulations set forth in Harris' draft law is a 750-foot buffer between solar arrays and the road. Zaepfel says this is a good guide and not "overburdensome" to the developer. She added that it could actually improve the visuals of the town, since families could build homes in the buffer zone, and with good screening the arrays would be practically invisible.
Harris noted that the town's comprehensive plan recommends how town leaders and residents should view the land, and the community that it fosters.
"This land holds the key to the future of the Town of Hartland," the plan states. "If its eventual use for development or continued agricultural production is well planned, it will remain a significant asset to the Town. If, on the other hand, growth is permitted to take place without guidance and control by the community, the overriding self-interest of speculative development may create growth detrimental to the well-being of the entire Town."
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