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Coxsackie solar law passed, some residents dismayed

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Win Morrison Realty Owner Winton Morrison, right, addresses the solar law at the Coxsackie Town Board meeting Tuesday.
November 14, 2018 10:02 pm

COXSACKIE — The Coxsackie Town Board passed a law to regulate all things solar, from commercial to home use, at the monthly meeting Tuesday.

The law, which passed 4-1, aims to accommodate solar energy collection systems and at the same time balance potential visual and environmental impacts.

It will govern the placement, design, construction and operation of solar-energy systems and ensure there will be no significant impacts on the environment or the town’s aesthetic qualities and character.

The law promotes solar, rather than bans it, and similar to zoning codes, it can be adopted or amended if necessary, Coxsackie Town Supervisor Richard Hanse said Wednesday.

Some residents will be unhappy, but the board had to look at the interests of many when coming up with the law, Hanse said. “The board really studied it,” Hanse said. “We’re all for if you use it [solar] on your property.”

The law will most likely have no effect on proposed large-scale solar projects, such as Hecate Energy LLC’s 50-megawatt solar farm on nearly 400 acres in the vicinity of Farm to Market Road, because the state review process supersedes local rule, Hanse said.

“We would have no say in site plans,” he said. “The law will not save us from the threat of having very intrusive solar operations in our town.”

Councilman Patrick Kennedy cast the lone no vote, saying the law is too stringent and will prevent residents in residential-agricultural zones to erect solar panels.

“Everyone should be looked at uniquely. There’s positives and negatives to each individual case,” Kennedy said. “It would be nice to have a policy in that law that says these people can apply.”

The law will make it harder for the Hecate project and the proposed Hudson Energy Development’s 100-megawatt solar facility on Flint Mine Road to succeed, Kennedy said.

His vote does not mean he’s either for or against solar projects, Kennedy said.

“It’s more of just a fairness issue with me,” he said. “These people own a good chunk of property and for them to just have to sit on it and not be able to turn a profit on it, I think that’s unfair.”

Passage of the law marks the end of the solar moratorium the town enacted in December 2017 to protect the safety and welfare of town residents by suspending the issuing of permits, certificates of occupancy and approvals of land uses related to solar energy systems and farms, Hanse said.

Another six months was added to the moratorium in May to fine-tune the law.

“We’re ready to rock-and-roll and promote the use of solar,” Hanse said.

The moratorium was enacted before any solar companies applied for permits and it was done in response to the lack of provisions on large-scale projects in the previous law.

The moratorium and subsequent law were not in response to the Hecate project, Hanse said.

“That’s when I realized the law we had was not adequate,” he said.

Solar companies have expressed disappointment in the town’s decision but none of them have told town officials that they’ve been targeted, Hanse said.

“They’re disappointed that we would construct a zoning code the way we’ve done it,” Hanse said.

Public hearing

Before the vote, the board held a public hearing on the proposed law. Each speaker had three minutes. Much of the response was in favor of solar projects.

The Flach family’s land is being considered for the Hecate project, but the family will allow farming to continue on the property.

But the law is detrimental to farming plans, Gabriella Flach said, adding solar energy is good for the environment.

“It is unfortunate that a few vocal neighbors are allowed to have such an outsize influence on this process,” she said. “I doubt that there’s one of you on this board who would appreciate someone living near you, telling you you can’t build a deck or erect a fence because of an obstruction of viewshed.”

The law will have long-term adverse effects, it is burdensome, restrictive and contrary to calls for increasing renewable energy, Jeanette Rice, of Rensselaerville, said, adding the area experienced hardships caused by Tropical Storm Irene.

“I believe that experience was only a small taste of the new warmer world,” Rice said. “It’s imperative that we work together as citizens of the state to take action against impending climate disasters that we’re facing now.”

Hecate Energy LLC Development Director Gabriel Wapner asked the board to consider all the voices heard at the meeting in favor of solar projects and to let the state review process play out.

“I don’t think you’ve heard these voices over the course of the last year, but they are present in your community,” Wapner said. “There are people that want to see a thorough analysis of these projects.”

Residents voiced their opinion about the law as restrictive, but it isn’t different from regular zoning laws, Hanse said Wednesday.

“In zoning we always tell you what you can or can’t do. These laws are for the common good of the community,” Hanse said. “You were hearing people who stand to make money if solar goes through and it very well still may.”

Reaction

Saving Greene: Citizens for Sensible Solar supports the town’s effort to protect the community’s character and while the group empathizes with residents who can do as they wish with their properties, zoning laws exist to allow a community to determine its priorities, Saving Greene member Kim Rose said Wednesday.

“You can’t build a mall or a factory in a residential district without special permission,” Rose said. “It only makes sense that you can’t build a power plant in these districts without permission, either.”

Rice used to come to Coxsackie as a child in the 1950s and play on the site where the Hecate project is proposed. She and was happy to hear the solar development would be built there.

“I came down and I started investigating and looking at the land,” she said.

Town officials already made up their minds about passing the law before the hearing, Rice said, and the vote should have been delayed so all views on the matter could be accounted for.

“I don’t believe there was much discussion about the information that was handed to them,” she said. “They could have tabled it and spent a little more time investigating other views.”

Kingston-based Win Morrison Realty Owner Winton Morrison spoke in favor of solar projects because Greene County has passed up many business opportunities, including opening an IBM office many years ago.

“Greene County keeps going down and down and down,” Morrison said. “This is something that I think is fantastic for the area.”

Property not sold for the solar projects will most likely go to Scenic Hudson or become open land which would be taken off the tax rolls, Morrison said after the meeting.

“Taxes coming off the tax roll will increase everybody else’s taxes,” Morrison said. “It’s just the wrong thing to have happened here tonight.”