Middlefield Adopts Solar Panel Zoning Law

Middlefield Adopts
Solar Panel Zoning Law


Installation of solar panels was not listed as a permitted use in residential zoning districts established by the Town of Middlefield Zoning Law as amended in 2016. But with the present emphasis on the development of renewable energy, the Town Board determined that an overall law should be enacted to deal with the various forms of solar panel installations. Accordingly, the board held a public hearing on February 14, at which it considered and ultimately passed Local Law 3 of 2023, titled “The Solar Energy Systems Law.”

The solar energy systems law creates four different system tier classifications: individual installations (Tier 1); ground-mounted panels not covered under Tier 1, on lots up to eight acres (Tier 2); installations on lots up to 40 acres (Tier 3); and, for larger and/or more complicated projects, Tier 4. All tiers require a zoning permit and a site plan review approved by the Planning Board, with final approval by the Town Board required. Thereafter, each tier sets out additional requirements of varying stringency and specificity applying to that particular type of installation.

The public hearing was well attended, with a number of residents voicing their concerns and suggestions regarding the draft that had been circulated. Initially, two residents—Paula DiPerna and Robert Seward—were of the opinion that the board should not consider a solar zoning ordinance without a comprehensive development plan because, in Seward’s words, to do so “puts the cart before the horse.” And DiPerna noted that the absence of any pending application made discussion of the entire issue premature.

One concern expressed by both speakers was the town board’s failure to analyze the negative effect solar panel farms and ancillary equipment would have on preserving agricultural farmland, protecting other natural vegetation and interfering with wildlife in general.

In a lengthy memorandum filed with the Town Board and recounted at the hearing, Seward detailed his objections and concerns, and provided examples where the proposed law made enforcement difficult because of the use of ambiguous terms. Seward specifically detailed areas where he considered that the proposed law failed to properly address maintenance of the facility, decommissioning and transparency of operations.

Following the public discussion, the board determined that some of the objections raised were outside the parameters of a zoning law, and that others would be covered by the town’s building code, or by requirements imposed by New York State’s Environmental Quality Review Act. After opinion of counsel that any change in the present structure of the proposed law would require a lengthy review, the board resolved to pass the law in its present form, with the understanding that it would be amended if subsequent needs required a change.

A copy of the Town of Middlefield Local Law 3 of 2023, “The Solar Energy Systems Law,” can be found on the town website at https://www.middlefieldny.org/documents–forms.html.

3 thoughts on “Middlefield Adopts Solar Panel Zoning Law

  1. Bowerstown_Resident

    Solar is the new fracking, many worry. Milddlefield’s solar law seems to offer landowner protections. That is misleading as ambiguities in the law are easily gotten around. Solar industrial companies often take advantage of individual landowners. When looking in detail at the Middlefield law, phrases such as “to the extent reasonably practicable,” “should be minimized,“ “refrain from/limit,” “may exceed coverage thresholds” are unenforceable and provide no practical protection to landowners of any size. Protections against spillover effects on neighbors are equally weak. (See the long list of cautions about which the Farm Bureau advises NYS farmers: http://www.nyfb.org/application/files/2014/9780/6349/file_y349d211hx.pdf) As speakers noted at the town board hearing, there is urgency to move forward on solar energy development, and move forward as fast as possible, but pushing through a weak, flawed solar law helps no one except commercial solar industrial companies, certainly not landowners.

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