WESTERLO ‚ÄĒ On Tuesday, Aug. 6, the Westerlo Town Board voted in favor of enacting a year-long moratorium on commercial solar arrays, commercial wind turbines, and the energy-storage systems that could be used to collect energy in these systems.
All four council members ‚ÄĒ two Democrats and two Republicans ‚ÄĒ voted in favor of the measure. William Bichteman could not vote on the measure due to his status as acting supervisor.
‚ÄúI think we‚Äôre closing the barn door after the horses have left,‚ÄĚ said planning board Chairwoman Dorothy Verch, a Republican running in November against Bichteman, a Democrat, for the supervisor‚Äôs post.
She saw such a moratorium as unnecessary, especially when the town could likely not support more large-scale arrays due to the limited capacity of a nearby electrical substation.
Last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which requires 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 and economy-wide, net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Since Westerlo enacted a law in 2017 that updated its zoning ordinance to include regulations on residential and commercial solar arrays, the town‚Äôs planning board has approved five commercial arrays owned by three different companies.
At the former Shepard Farm resort, located at the intersection of routes 32 and 405, two 45-acre plots were divided out of the 190-acre property, owned by Rensselaerville supervisor John Dolce and construction-company owner Steve Haaland, for the construction of two commercial arrays. Two community solar arrays owned by Clean Energy Collective are located on seven acres of land off of Route 351, and on 11 acres at the intersection of routes 32 and 405. Another two-megawatt array, owned by Costanza Solar LLC, was approved off Route 405.
A map of the arrays, compiled by The Enterprise, can be found here.
But the town board has since then revised some parts of the law, and it was mentioned that more revisions are possible. Additionally, the town is currently preparing to update its comprehensive plan.
Councilman Joseph Boone described the situation as a ‚Äúperfect storm‚ÄĚ for a moratorium on commercial arrays. He said the law may have been put in place too quickly, and noted a number of South Westerlo residents have been concerned by the arrays sprouting up in and around their hamlet.
‚ÄúUnfortunately for those South Westerlo folks, there‚Äôs a thought of South Westerlo becoming ‚ÄėSolar Westerlo,‚Äô‚ÄĚ he said.
Most of those who spoke during the public hearing that preceded the vote took little issue with a moratorium on wind turbines or battery-storage systems, but some questioned the need for a moratorium on commercial solar.
Republican council members Amie Burnside and Richard Filkins voted in favor of the moratorium. Matthew Kryzak, who is running on the GOP line with Verch for town council, said he agreed with a moratorium, noting it is temporary.
Verch later said that, with three payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOTs) negotiated so far, the town is collecting around $20,000 a year. Bichteman commented that the town is receiving a fraction of what he believes is Westerlo‚Äôs fair share.
A state tax law provides a 15-year property tax exemption for properties with renewable energy systems, applying to the value that a system adds to the property, rather than all property taxes. Local governments can then ask commercial developers to have a payment in lieu of taxes. The exemption is in effect unless a municipality opts out of it, but the exemption will also no longer be allowed for residential arrays.
Verch told The Enterprise earlier that, while the taxes on these solar projects would have been much higher than what is being paid in the PILOT if the town had opted out of the PILOT program, the town would have had to tax residential solar arrays as well as possibly driving away the commercial solar companies with high taxes.
Bichteman said at the Aug. 6 meeting that he was concerned about large-scale projects, particularly with new state deadline to be reliant solely on renewable energy. For arrays generating more than 25 megawatts, a state board permits a project rather than a town to set the parameters. Interim town attorney Javid Afzali said that a moratorium would prevent a company‚Äôs authority superseding the town.