MALONE — The Town Board has introduced its draft law governing commercial solar operations, setting a framework of regulations for prospective developers while protecting the community’s environmental and financial interests.
The move came even as a representative of the developer whose proposal prompted the law said the size of the project was being reduced significantly.
If approved, the 18-page document would stiffen the town’s zoning regulations concerning large-scale solar developments and make illegal some aspects of the proposed Geronimo Energy Franklin Solar development, including its location.
Facilities subject to the regulations include new construction larger than 2,000 square feet, or existing systems adding more than 5 percent to their total area.
The law also prevents developers from covering more than 20 percent of their lot with solar equipment.
A number of regulations address concerns aired by citizens during the Franklin Solar public hearings, including a ban on large scale developments along the Adirondack Scenic Byway and designated prime farmland.
The town began drafting the law last September when approached by energy developer Geronimo Energy, which had originally planned to build a 150-megawatt facility occupying 950 acres of farmland along Route 30.
On Wednesday, a Geronimo representative informed the board that it has reduced the proposed scale of the Franklin Solar project by two-thirds, with the expected capacity now rated at 50 megawatts.
Though the exact specs of the smaller-scale project are not yet available, the original project would have been disqualified by a number of the new regulations, including the protection of prime farmland and the Adirondack Scenic Byway from commercial solar development.
The law also ensures that developments bear “the least visual effect practical” on the surrounding area through height requirements and the use of screening.
Large-scale developments will also be required to obtain a “special use permit” by following nearly 20 requirements, such as providing the town with an environmental report, detailed schematics and blueprints, and a decommissioning plan for when the project has completed its working life.
The decommissioning language requires an estimated cost and timeframe for dismantling a project, and a letter of credit for 125 percent of the projected cost.
In addition to a fee determined at the board’s discretion, prospective developers must also pay an “initial deposit” of 1 percent of the anticipated project cost to the town, to be used for consulting fees needed to approve or reject the permit application.
Any remaining deposit funds are returned to the developer when the board reaches its decision.
Once built, large solar developments would be subject to inspection by the town board, ensuring accountability during the life of the project.
On Wednesday, Town Supervisor Andrea Stewart lauded the six-month-plus effort put in to drafting the law, adding that some parts may still be tweaked slightly.
Before approval, the law will also subject to a public hearing, to be held on a date to be announced.