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Planning Board gives council recommendations on solar array legislation

Nicole A. Hawley
Staff writer
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Posted 11/3/22

The city Planning Board unanimously approved a recommendation to the Common Council regarding proposed changes to the Rome Zoning Code on the construction and establishment of solar arrays.

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Planning Board gives council recommendations on solar array legislation

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ROME — The city Planning Board unanimously approved a recommendation to the Common Council regarding proposed changes to the Rome Zoning Code on the construction and establishment of solar arrays within the city on the condition some additions and modifications be made to the legislation.

At the opening of the meeting, Fifth Ward Councilor Frank R. Anderson explained to the board that much research was conducted to draft Ordinance 9538, amending Chapter 80 — Zoning Code in order to protect the health, welfare and safety of citizens and businesses. He said he, Third Ward Councilor Kimberly Rogers and Second Ward Councilor John B. Mortise had looked into what other municipalities in the state had done.

“We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel if we saw there was something good already out there,” said Anderson.

The councilor said, “We wanted changes primarily in the decommissioning aspect, as well as protecting existing infrastructure. These projects will come in and bring heavy trucks, which can still be doing damage to infrastructure, like recent roadwork. We wanted to make sure the city was protected there.”

Decommissioning was a priority in case companies decided to abandon projects, so that the city and its taxpayers would not end up being responsible for the costs of tearing down solar arrays, Anderson explained.

“So many solar companies are out there right now, and who knows if a company will stay committed to that project, or walk away,” he said. “Decommissioning is so important. There’s been input from the RIDC (Regional Industrial Development Corporation) and Mohawk Valley EDGE, but keep in mind they’re speaking on behalf of the developer, so you need to filter through that. When we made changes for Section 80, we were doing so without any specific project in mind — we did this for the city, for the long-term, so we wouldn’t need to go through this process again.”

Planning Board Chairman Mark Esposito questioned if the impact on infrastructure should be considered for all construction projects not just solar arrays.

With projects such as the construction of apartment complexes, for example, Anderson said heavy trucks and semis may access the city’s truck routes, while solar arrays may be proposed for anywhere in the city, and therefore heavy vehicles may need to access a road “that hasn’t been repaired in a while.”

“There wasn’t any protection for infrastructure before” the proposed legislation “for solar panels,” Anderson said. “It was very broad. This was to tighten the broadness of the language.”

Esposito then noted there were several items in the proposed legislation that needed to be modified or considered, including a 200-foot setback requirement, which he felt was too restrictive. The chairman said he also wanted a maintenance plan for solar array projects to include the entire property as “some solar companies only maintain inside the fence line” where the panels are installed.

As for environmental impact, Esposito said the recommendation for noise guidelines for solar projects would be “hard to maintain,” as 30 dB is at a level of whispering, while 60 dB is a level of normal conversation. Planning Board member Karim Madmoune asked if noise produced by solar arrays could be measured, and in a consistent format.

Esposito said he also felt the legislation should also include more descriptive language concerning buffering and screening methods, such as landscaping. And with a portion of the legislation concerning deicing, the chairman asked that the council “define what you mean by chemical,” or that the legislation list what chemicals should be either used or banned from use.

Esposito also recommended that the council consider including language that would require a certain percentage of power staying in the area of construction — whether it benefit a park, government building, or business — for example — depending on location.

Assistant City Corporation Counsel James Rizzo said now that the Planning Board had reviewed the proposed legislation, it could offer suggestions for additions or modifications, whether that include exact numbers, such as a 100-foot setback requirement rather than 200-foot, or approximate numbers.

“You can have bullet points” for recommendations, “if it gives them (Common Council) more direction,” Rizzo said.

Recommendations passed on to the council were:

Consider a 100-foot setback;

Lot coverage: Put more thought into the lot coverage based on impervious surface — perhaps NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research & Development) defines lot coverage better;

Maintenance plan for the property should include the entire lot, not just inside the fence;

Deicing — there needs to be a definition of “chemical” or a list of banned products, or certain methodologies of deicing;

Environmental noise — refer to the existing noise ordinances in the code;

Buffering — either define or point to existing buffering requirements in the code;

Also consider that a company must install or maintain a Level 2 charger for community benefit.

The board then unanimously approved the recommendation for amendments to Rome Code of Ordinances Chapter 80, with some modifications.

“It’s good that we codify this, and I’m glad we took some time” on this legislation, Esposito said. “And hopefully our comments will change the code to make it even better.”

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