Hartland resident Peggy Zaepfel asks questions about the decommissioning of renewable energy generation projects and effects on the land, during a Wednesday public hearing on the Town of Newfane's proposed solar energy siting law. (Ben Joe / staff)

NEWFANE — The proposed Town of Newfane Solar Energy Local Law would declare the northernmost portion of the town off limits to large scale solar energy generation.

Among other things, the law calls for the protection of  “prime farmland soil” and a complete ban on utility scale solar energy generation facilities on land north of the old New York Central Railroad right-of-way. That rail line ran east-west from Barker to Burt.

The reasoning behind both rules is that the character of Newfane is in its farmland, according to town planning board chairman Bill Clark.

“The law says if you want to put in a large solar system … where they put up solar panels and they sell that power … it’s got to go on a lot where there’s less than 50% of prime farmland,” Clark said. “If you go up to the USDA offices here they got maps where you can tell whether your property has less or more of 50% of prime farmlands. It classifies the soils.”

“That part of the law is going to limit the total amount of solar energy systems we can accommodate in the town of Newfane,” Clark added. “It’s not likely you’re going to see row after row of solar panels ... because the amount of land that can be contributed to this is limited.”

Town Supervisor Tim Horanburg said any local law that regulates the siting of solar energy facilities walks a fine line with Article 94, otherwise known as the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act.

That state law, passed in April 2020, is taking effect this April, and while it streamlines the siting process for utility-scale energy facilities, through the newly created Office of Renewable Energy Siting, the law is criticized heavily for stripping local municipalities like Newfane of their say in where so-called industrial solar farms may go within their borders.

“Just a brief overview of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it: The sole purpose (of the proposed local law) is to protect the Town of Newfane the best we can from this Article 94,” Horanburg said. “If (large facilities) do go in, we want to have as much control as we possibly can without the state thinking we’re stepping over our boundaries and stepping in and overriding us.”

Town attorney Jim Sansone said the proposed law is based on a model solar law proposed by the state.

“We looked at a number of laws in the various communities on solar energy, and we decided to use a model solar law ... as the framework for our local solar law,” Sansone said. “I think that would stand us in good light, because if the state comes down and says it's unreasonable, we can say, well, we’re using the law based on what you provided us to use and we tried to adapt it to our area.”

The town board held a public hearing on the proposed law Wednesday night to gather input from citizens. Now the proposal will be returned to the planning board for another look.

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