The Town of Wheatfield is wisely getting ahead of the curve in considering a moratorium on the installation of ground-based solar systems. As solar power becomes more affordable and popular, its sometimes intrusive presence will need to be regulated, especially in more populous areas.
Technology always seems to outpace the law, particularly over the past 20 years, as its advance has threatened long-held notions of privacy and even hindered law enforcement. In this instance, the issue is the increasing desirability of solar power versus neighborhood and municipal interest in avoiding the potential blight of acres of ground-based solar panels.
It’s not a fanciful concern. Town Attorney Matthew E. Brooks said some farmers have already been approached by commercial energy companies wanting to rent land for large solar farms, although he isn’t aware that anyone has made that deal yet. The town just passed a farmland protection law that may have some bearing on such developments.
But complaints have already arisen as some residents have put such systems in their backyards, drawing protests relating both to their unattractiveness – an issue that could affect neighboring property values – and glare. In response, one property owner sought to erect a fence 8 feet tall in order to block the glare.
“Basically, we have no law. We have nothing on the books,” Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said. “We think that’s not really appropriate.”
It isn’t, and it is to the town’s credit that it wants to examine the issue. Other municipalities around Western New York should take note.
The point isn’t – or at least shouldn’t be – to ban all such installations indiscriminately. Nor is it aimed at rooftop systems that provide power to the structures they cover. Solar energy is the way of the future, and it’s a hopeful sign, as the country is able to move away from fossil fuels to safer, renewable energy.
But there is a need to exert some control over how large and where such installations should be permitted. Conceivably – though perhaps not wisely – the town could conclude that no such restrictions are needed. It would be similar to doing away with zoning laws that keep heavy industry out of residential areas.
Nevertheless, the first thing is to take note of the lack of appropriate controls. The rules being developed will limit where solar panels may be located, either for individual homes or solar farms. During a proposed six-month breather, a focus group, aided by a consultant, would draft regulations for action by the board.
A public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. May 16 in Town Hall, 2800 Church Road. The moratorium would, in effect, last seven months, since the measure calling for it exempted any project that already had begun by last Monday.
It’s a wise beginning that calls for public involvement and attention by other municipalities that could otherwise find themselves awash in a sea of solar panels, and perhaps sooner than they expect.