Canton board passes energy storage law

Solar array. Watertown Daily Times

CANTON — In preparation for increased interest in large-scale renewable energy projects within municipal limits, the Town Council has passed a series of local laws regulating commercial development.

Following a second public hearing last week, the town passed an energy storage law complementary to its solar law, passed in 2019. The laws are based on model regulations authored by the state Energy Research and Development Authority. The energy storage law received a virtual public hearing in March and an in-person public hearing July 13, with finalized environmental impact review requirements completed under the state Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQR.

The storage law was drafted by the town Planning Board and reviewed over several months by town attorney Eric J. Gustafson and councilors Robert J. Washo and James T. Smith, who serve on the town’s Solar Committee. Though the storage law itself does not necessarily carry any environmental impact, Town Council approved required SEQR documentation by a resolution. Any proposed development project will be subject to its own, more specific SEQR process.

During a special June 30 meeting, the town approved retaining an Oswego County law firm for legal services related to the environment and renewable energy. William M. Buchan, of Buchan & Sutter, Constantia, attended last week’s meeting and described the storage law as “forward-looking,” and essentially a road map for negotiations between the town and developers.

Moratoriums on commercial development of solar and energy storage systems were in place prior to each law being passed, so municipal planning officials and Mr. Gustafson had time to adapt the NYSERDA framework before large-scale energy companies could propose new development.

The solar law mandates a community benefit negotiation process between solar companies and the town, prohibits the removal of prime agricultural soil and regulates panel heights, property setbacks and transmission lines. The solar law requires batteries and storage cells be enclosed by a fence at least 6 feet high, but other specific regulations for battery banks and storage equipment were not fully established, warranting a separate law for the storage that typically accompanies intermittent renewable energy collection.

The storage law creates a two-tier system to help the town evaluate proposed development. Systems for residential or small business use would fall under Tier 1 and be permitted in all of the town’s zoning districts. Such smaller systems would need to meet building and electrical safety code standards, but would not require approval from the town Planning Board.

Tier 2 systems would be required to undergo a full Planning Board approval process and only be allowed in commercial and rural zones. A Tier 2 system is designated as energy storage of at least 600 kilowatt-hours — a measure of total energy that can be used over time. Relative to that “large” storage standard, for example, electric vehicle battery capacity ranges from 15 to 100 kilowatt-hours, depending on the model.

North country development interest is part of a statewide push for renewable energy outlined by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2018. That year the governor announced goals of building the state’s capacity to 1,500 megawatts of energy storage by 2025, and 3,000 megawatts of energy storage and 70% renewable energy by 2030. The goals are outlined in the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, signed into law in 2019.

Similar solar and storage moratoriums leading to development of the NYSERDA-based renewable energy regulations have been implemented in municipalities across the region, including in Potsdam and Massena.

The village of Canton in March passed a six-month moratorium on both solar and storage development to consider its own regulatory preparation before working with potential developers.

A commercial facility off Rich Road just outside the village is in the early stages of development. EDF Renewables anticipates submitting state permit applications and begin official town collaboration by the end of 2022 for the Rich Road Solar Energy Center, a 240-megawatt project on roughly 1,500 acres of land.

EDF Renewables is hosting an open house for the proposed $300-million project from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Best Western University Inn, 90 E. Main St.

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