Public can share thoughts on solar array moratorium in city

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A public hearing on the imposition of a moratorium on solar arrays within the city has been set for 6:50 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13.

The Common Council scheduled and unanimously passed the public hearing on the moratorium during its meeting Wednesday in Common Council Chambers of City Hall.

During the Aug. 25 Common Council meeting, councilors discussed the need to develop a better policy when it comes to solar power developments.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, local businessman and Zoning Board of Appeals member James DiCastro urged councilors to draft specific requirements for solar power companies wishing to construct developments — known as “solar farms” — within the city.

Earlier last month, the ZBA voted unanimously against granting a special area variance to Turin Road Solar, LLC — whose parent company is Seaboard Solar— so that it could construct a proposed 31-acre solar array in a wooded area off of Ironwood Drive and adjacent to a residential neighborhood.

Third Ward Councilor Kimberly Rogers said council members were in the process of having legislation drafted to create a moratorium on proposals for such projects and give them time to develop new rules, and tools, when it comes to solar projects.  

During the public comments portion of Wednesday’s meeting, DiCastro once again addressed the council about his concern for solar array developments in the city.

“Solar has no benefit” to the city, said DiCastro as he addressed councilors. “What the city needs is housing. If you have people who have houses, or renters with landlords who take pride in their buildings, then we’ll have more businesses come” to the city.

Those who own their own small businesses would take pride in growing and developing their livelihood and continue to be local residents, while solar companies, who mostly receive grants to support their projects, would not stay and invest back into their community, said DiCastro.

The business owner complained about a solar array that’s planned for 100-plus acres of property in Oneida County, with 30 homes bordering the site.

“That’s at least 30 residents who are forced to be looking at it, and it has no benefit to the City of Rome,” DiCastro said.

DiCastro was referring to the New York Power Authority’s plans to develop solar arrays in Oneida County that will help power the Empire State Plaza in Albany. A developer has already been selected by the power authority and state Office of General Services. The development will take place on OGS-owned land near the former Oneida County Airport in Whitestown.

DiCastro said such a development would not benefit local residents as far as breaks or reductions in their energy bills, but that housing developments would instead create tax revenues for local municipalities.

A housing development could “create $300,000 in tax revenue a year, what will the solar give you?,” asked DiCastro. “It’s sad to see this going up in Oriskany School District, which is a well-desired school district, and that would be the school district on the subdivision.”

DiCastro also pointed out the risks and liabilities associated with the bonding for such projects and who would be liable paying for rehabilitation costs, possible back taxes, etc., if a solar company walks away from their development.

“If you build a moratorium there’s one slight hitch…If there’s a moratorium” the city “has to be careful if it’s private,” said DiCastro. “If you have a business like Davidson’s,” who has a large stretch of land behind the auto dealership, “and they decided to install solar panels that strictly benefit them, and put up their own money for the project,” then those type of developments should still be considered.

He said, “You have to be careful that if you start a moratorium, that a private entity will not fall into that.”

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