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Town of Lockport plans solar power regulations

LOCKPORT – The Town of Lockport is proposing a set of limitations on solar power installations.

The Town Board will hold a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. June 8 in Town Hall, 6560 Dysinger Road, on a proposed local law that would limit ground-mounted solar panels, while restricting large-scale solar projects to agricultural districts.

Ground-mounted panels would be permitted as if they were accessory structures in all zoning districts. But in residential areas – including single-family, multiple dwelling, mobile home park and agricultural-residential – the panels can’t be placed in a lot smaller than two acres unless the property owner wins a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Other ground-based solar projects that don’t comply with every aspect of the law will have to go before the town Planning Board for site plan approval.

A utility-scale solar power system, defined as one whose output is to be sold into the power grid rather than used on-site, will be allowed only in agricultural or agricultural-residential zones. They may cover no more than 50 acres of land, and the minimum lot size for such a facility would be 15 acres.

Town Attorney Michael J. Norris said officials decided not to allow large-scale solar projects in industrial zones. “We have such limited industrial land for economic development,” he explained.

Solar panels on rooftops are to be allowed everywhere in the town with only a building permit required.

Norris said Chief Building Inspector Brian M. Belson “has been approached a couple of times about residential-scale systems.”

The law includes extra-large setback requirements from neighboring property lines and homes for utility-scale solar installations, unless the neighbors agree in writing on smaller buffer zones.

For smaller ground-based systems, the solar panel surface area is limited to 2,000 square feet.

The town intends to charge a $2,500 application fee for a utility-scale system, plus $1,000 per year.

If any solar system is abandoned for a year or more, it must be removed, and the town has the power to remove the equipment and send the property owner the bill for the work if the owner doesn’t remove the system on his own.

There also are rules regarding the height of a ground-based solar panel. “You cannot point the solar system directly into a residential dwelling,” Norris said.

“We always want to protect the rights of homeowners,” Supervisor Mark C. Crocker said.

Other towns have taken an interest in regulating solar panels on the ground.

In Wheatfield, the Town Board will hold a public hearing May 16 on a six-month moratorium on ground-based projects, while a town focus group works on a proposed law to amend the zoning code to regulate such uses.