Canton extends halt on big-scale energy storage systems

Solar array. Watertown Daily Times

CANTON — Following a public hearing Thursday evening, the town council voted to extend its moratorium on development of commercial energy storage systems.

Set in February, the previous six-month moratorium would have expired Sept. 30, and the extension is effective through March 31, 2021.

The moratorium does not include stand-alone household batteries, car batteries or electric vehicles.

In the summer of 2018, the town passed a six-month moratorium on large-scale solar projects to allow municipal officials time to incorporate regulations into town code for solar companies interested in developing on land within the town.

After an extension of that moratorium and several public hearings, the town passed a solar law more than a year later in September 2019, regulating site planning, permitting, installation and management of potential commercial solar farms.

The 2019 solar law mandates a community benefit negotiation process between solar companies and the town, which must result in the town receiving a project benefit, such as payment in lieu of taxes or low-cost power allotment.

The law also prohibits the removal of prime agricultural soil and regulates panel heights, property setbacks and on-site utility and transmission lines.

Though the law requires mechanical equipment, including any structures for batteries or storage cells, be enclosed by a fence at least 6 feet high, regulations for energy storage units and large battery banks were not fully established.

Municipal officials are now working to develop more comprehensive storage regulations with guidance from the state Energy Research and Development Authority, NYSERDA. The regulations will eventually be brought to the public, and town council will vote on their adoption as local law.

The moratoriums and subsequent adoption of the 2019 law were prompted by town landowners being approached by solar power developers, as part of a statewide push for renewable energy development. In 2018, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced goals of 1,500 megawatts of energy storage by 2025, and 3,000 megawatts of energy storage and 70% renewable energy by 2030. Those goals are now outlined in the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, signed into law by Gov. Cuomo last year.

In October 2019, the town heard an EDF Renewables proposal for a 240-megawatt solar farm with 750,000 solar panels on land near Rich Road south of the village limits. The company had already negotiated some lease agreements with local landowners for the project.

EDF Renewables is an internationally-operating company with several completed and in-progress wind and solar projects in New York. Proposed solar farms are in the developing stages in Livingston, Herkimer and Niagara counties. The 80-megawatt and 40-turbine Copenhagen Wind Project launched by EDF became operational last year in Lewis and Jefferson counties.

Canton’s EDF solar farm, which would take at least three years to be operational after moratoriums cease, would be the company’s first solar facility in St. Lawrence County.

Similar moratoriums, leading to ongoing development of renewable energy codes based on guidance from NYSERDA, have been implemented in municipalities across the north country, including in Potsdam and Massena over the last three years. The town of Potsdam’s energy storage law is set to receive a public hearing in October.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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