POTSDAM — It was the longest conversation held on the passing of a potential local law the town clerk has ever experienced.
At least that was what Town Clerk Cindy J. Goliber said following the nearly one-hour presentation and discussion over Proposed Local Law No. 2 of the year 2019: Regulation of Solar Photovoltaic Systems.
“I don’t think we have ever had that much legal advice on any law ever in the town of Potsdam,” she said. “And every time we thought we were nearly done, we weren’t.”
The 22-page law, if adopted following a 6 p.m. July 23 public hearing at Town Hall, would be added as its own section to the Town Code with the purpose to “encourage and promote the safe, effective and efficient use of installed solar photovoltaic systems that reduce on-site consumption of utility-supplied energy while protecting the health, safety and welfare of adjacent and surrounding land uses and properties.”
It would also promote and enhance agricultural viability and preserve productive agriculture land resources. But the conversation that consumed the presentation revolved around abandonment and removal of solar systems.
Kevin C. Murphy, an attorney with the Wladis Law Firm in Syracuse who acted as a consultant on the drafting of the proposed local law, said the section looks at what happens 20 plus years down the road if the systems are no longer viable.
Any of the systems that require a special use permit need to address the issue of abandonment removal and need to submit a plan that details the abandonment and removal process that is going to take place, how it will occur and how long it will take place, Mr. Murphy told the board.
He said the town would have the authority to notify land owners when their system is deemed abandoned, give them a set time to remove that system and, if they don’t remove it, the town can come in, remove it, incur the cost, and place a lien on the landowner, requiring the owner to pay that when their taxes are due.
The Town Board has the ability to give extensions or allow other flexibility in the future, he said.
Town Councilwoman Toni A. Kennedy asked about putting decommissioning funds in a surety bond or an escrow account in order to protect property owners against unscrupulous developers that may take advantage of farmers or owners of large swaths of land, develop the solar array, and years down the line abandon the system, leaving it to the land owner to foot the bill.
But the town doesn’t have that authority, Mr. Murphy said.
“The safer and surer route to address this concern was not to require a bond, because it doesn’t seem the town has the authority to require a bond for the purpose of removing a solar array that is no longer functioning,” Mr. Murphy said. “I don’t know what deal any one landowner is going to make with any one developer. (They) could negotiate whatever deal works for the two of (them) and the town can’t really interfere in that private transaction, but I agree, there are things that can be done in the application documents to educate people who may not be aware of that.”
Town Supervisor Ann M. Carvill said while it is a matter of “buyer beware,” the town will do its best to protect its citizens.
“It’s an important point,” she said. “There’s risk, but it’s still America and you’re still allowed to make deals, but we will do our best to make sure there is an informed public, because we care about the risks they take upon themselves.”