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Siting solar projects

The Millerton News Editorial

Didi Barrett (D-Dutchess/Columbia) and Michelle Hinchey (D-District 41) have succeeded in getting a bill through the New York State Assembly and Senate that seeks to help communities confront the change that comes with  renewable energy initiatives.

Called the Smart Integrated Tools for Energy Development (SITED) Act, the bill, introduced by Barrett in the Assembly, is aimed at helping communities identify lands that are best suited for locating renewable energy projects. Under its provisions, the bill calls for the state to develop a mapping tool — a Clean Energy Mapping Tool — to identify these land sites and designate preferred sites on a map for developers to see.

There also are provisions to help communities understand the benefits of becoming a host site for such projects, as well as getting a perspective on environmental and community impact.

On her website, Barrett says: “The challenges of balancing the need for more renewable energy, preserving farmland for food production, and ensuring the economic viability of our local communities have been playing out over the last several years across the state. While some municipalities have welcomed solar projects and have developers who work cooperatively with the host community, it is clear that other communities have had the opposite experience.”

In Pine Plains, the town’s Planning Board has for months been weighing an application from Carson Power of New York City to build a tier-3 solar plant, which, under town law adopted in 2022, is considered a large-scale solar installation. The members of the Planning Board have considered Carson’s application with detailed deliberation, facing questions from residents at public hearings and workshops where concerns have been expressed about the project’s impact on habitat, the visual impact of the project and evaluating the project’s consistency with community character.

Under Planning Board Chairman Michael Stabile’s leadership, the board has laid out all the issues and facts, coming to a decision earlier this summer to make a negative declaration on  the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) of the project, meaning the board determined that it would not rise to the level of “significant adverse impact” under 18 different considerations — a major hurdle cleared.

The next move likely will come at the board’s meeting on Aug. 9 when its decision could be formally accepted. But then, to follow, there are  a series of variances requiring approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals

Meantime, Pine Plains also is weighing a moratorium on future tier-3 solar projects while the town reevaluates its laws governing solar projects. A decision on a moratorium could be made at a Town Board’s meeting Aug. 17.

The SITED Act is on solid ground when it calls for providing a knowledge base and community input to identify local lands best suited for renewable energy projects. The rigor applied by the Pine Plains Planning Board also could be a primer for other communities with farmland and forestland that is targeted for large-scale solar development.

Quoting Sen. Hinchey, who introduced a matching bill in the Senate: “New York needs more renewable energy and prime farmland reserved for growing our food supply — both goals are pivotal in our fight against the Climate Crisis, and our communities need to be active participants in guiding their effective implementation, which is exactly what the SITED Act will help achieve.”

The SITED Act now awaits final action by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

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