[HISTORY: Adopted by the Town Board of the Town of Stillwater 5-18-2017 by L.L. No. 1-2017. Amendments noted where applicable.]
§ 170-5 Construction and placement requirements for solar farms and solar power plants; permits required.
Solar energy is a renewable and nonpolluting energy resource that can lessen fossil fuel emissions and reduce a municipality's energy load. Energy generated from solar energy systems can be used to offset energy demand on the grid when excess power is generated.
The use of solar energy equipment for the purpose of providing electricity and for heating and/or cooling is a national and state priority and is a necessary component of the Town of Stillwater's current and long-term sustainability agenda.
The purpose of this legislation is to balance the potential impact on neighbors when solar energy equipment systems may be installed near their property while preserving the rights of property owners to install solar collection systems without excess regulation. The intent is to allow building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) systems, flush-mounted solar systems, roof-mounted, building-mounted and pole-mounted solar installations that have a minimum footprint (height) to be approved using the building permit process while requiring freestanding, ground-mounted or pole-mounted solar energy system installations over a certain height and based upon certain placement to go through a site plan review and a special use permit process before the Planning Board with input from abutting property owners. This legislation is not intended to override agricultural exemptions that are currently in place for farmers.
As used in this chapter, the following terms shall have the meanings indicated:
- ACCESSORY STRUCTURE
- A structure subordinate and clearly incidental to the principal building on the same lot and used for a purpose customarily incidental to that of the principal building.
- ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SYSTEM
- Structure, equipment devices or construction techniques for the production of heat, light, cooling, electricity or other forms of energy on site and may be attached to or separate from the principal structure.
- BUILDING-INTEGRATED PHOTOVOLTAIC (BIPV) SYSTEM
- A solar energy system that consists of integrating photovoltaic modules into the building structure such as the roof or the facade and which does not alter the relief of the roof or the facade. Any photovoltaic module that projects any figure or form from the flat background of the roof or facade shall be considered to alter the relief of the roof or facade.
- COLLECTIVE SOLAR
- Solar installation owned collectively through subdivision homeowners' association, college student groups, adopt-a-solar-panel, or other similar arrangements.
- FLUSH-MOUNTED SOLAR PANEL
- Photovoltaic panels and tiles that are installed flush to the surface of a roof or wall and which cannot be angled or raised. This shall also include solar shingles.
- FREESTANDING OR GROUND-MOUNTED SOLAR ENERGY SYSTEM
- A solar energy system that is directly installed on the ground, including in an array, and is not attached or affixed to an existing structure.
- FRONT YARD
- A yard that extends the full width of the lot and is situated between the adjacent highway right-of-way or shoreline and the front line of the building or structure, projected to the side lines of the lot. The depth of the front yard shall be measured between the front line of the building or structure and the highway right-of-way line or shoreline. Covered porches or canopies and decks, whether or not enclosed, shall be considered as part of the main building and shall not project into a required front yard.
- NET METERING
- A billing arrangement that allows solar customers to get credit for excess electricity that they generate and deliver back to the grid so that they only pay for their net electricity usage.
- PERMIT GRANTING AUTHORITY
- The Town of Stillwater authority charged with granting permits for the installation of alternative energy systems.
- PHOTOVOLTAIC (PV) SYSTEM
- A solar energy system that produces electricity by the use of semiconductor devices, called photovoltaic cells, that generate electricity when light strikes them.
- QUALIFIED SOLAR INSTALLER/REPAIRER
- A person who has specialized skills and knowledge related to the construction, installation, operation and repair of solar electrical equipment and has received safety training on the hazards involved. Persons who are on the list of eligible photovoltaic installers maintained by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), or who are certified as a solar installer by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), shall be deemed to be qualified solar installers/repairers for the purposes of this definition. Persons who are not on NYSERDA's or NABCEP's list of certified installers may still be deemed to be qualified solar installers if the Town of Stillwater determines such persons to have had adequate training to determine the degree and extent of the hazard, and have the personal protective equipment and job planning necessary to perform the installation safely. Such training shall include the proper use of special precautionary techniques and personal protective equipment, as well as the skills and techniques necessary to distinguish exposed energized parts from other parts of electrical equipment and to determine the nominal voltage of the exposed parts.
- ROOFTOP OR BUILDING-MOUNTED SOLAR SYSTEM
- A solar system in which solar panels are mounted on top of the structure of a roof either as a flush-mounted system or as modules fixed to frames which can be tilted toward the south at an optimal angle.
- The required minimum distance from a front lot line, side lot line or rear lot line of a parcel where solar energy equipment or a system is installed.
- SMALL-SCALE SOLAR
- For purposes of this chapter, refers to photovoltaic systems of 100 square feet of surface area or less that produce up to 10 kilowatts (kW) per hour of energy or solar thermal systems which serve only the building to which they are attached, and do not provide energy, heat or hot water for any other buildings.
- SOLAR ACCESS
- Space open to the sun and clear of overhangs or shade, including the orientation of the streets and lots to the sun so as to permit the use of active and/or passive solar energy systems on individual properties.
- SOLAR COLLECTOR
- A photovoltaic cell, panel or array, or any solar hot air or solar energy collector which relies upon solar radiation as an energy source for the generation of at least one kW per hour of electricity or transfer of stored energy to heat, air, water or solar hot water.
- SOLAR EASEMENT
- An easement recorded pursuant to New York Real Property Law § 335-b, the purpose of which is to secure the right to receive sunlight across real property of another for continued access to sunlight necessary to operate a solar collector.
- SOLAR ENERGY EQUIPMENT/SYSTEM
- Solar energy equipment systems, controls, energy storage devices, heat pumps, heat exchangers, panels, inverters, transformers, transmission lines with poles, mounts, electrical wiring and other materials, hardware or equipment necessary to the process by which solar radiation is collected and converted into another form of energy and is stored, protected from unnecessary dissipation and distributed. Solar systems include solar thermal, photovoltaic and concentrated solar.
- SOLAR FARM or SOLAR POWER PLANT
- Energy generation facility or area of land principally used to convert solar energy to electricity, whether by photovoltaics, concentrating solar thermal devices, solar energy equipment/systems or various experimental solar technologies, with the primary purpose of wholesale or retail sales of electricity.
- SOLAR PANEL
- A device for the direct conversion of solar energy into electricity, heat or hot water.
- SOLAR STORAGE BATTERY
- A device that stores energy from the sun and makes it available in an electrical form.
- SOLAR THERMAL SYSTEM
- Solar thermal systems directly heat water or other liquids using sunlight. The heated liquid is used for purposes such as space heating and cooling, domestic hot water, and heating pool water.
- As used in this chapter, any object constructed, installed or permanently placed on land to facilitate land use and development, including but not limited to buildings, sheds, solar energy equipment or systems, and any fixtures, additions and alterations thereto.
The requirements of this chapter shall apply to all solar energy equipment or system installations modified or installed after the effective date of this chapter.
For purposes of this chapter solar energy equipment shall include solar thermal systems.
Solar energy equipment or system installations for which a valid building permit has been properly issued, and for which installation has commenced before the effective date of this chapter, shall not be required to meet the requirements of this chapter for its initial installation.
All solar energy equipment or systems shall be designed, erected, installed, modified, repaired and maintained and installed in accordance with all applicable codes, regulations and industry standards as referenced in the International Property Maintenance Code, the New York State Fire Prevention and Building Code, and Town of Stillwater Zoning Code.
Solar energy equipment/systems, unless part of a solar farm or solar power plant that obtains a special use permit, shall be permitted only to provide power for use by owners, lessees, tenants, residents, or other occupants of the premises on which they are erected, but nothing contained in this provision shall be construed to prohibit collective solar installations or the sale of excess power through a net billing or net metering arrangement in accordance with New York Public Service Law § 66-j or similar state or federal law or regulation.
No small-scale solar energy system or device shall be installed or operated in the Town except in compliance with this chapter.
Rooftop and building-mounted solar energy equipment/systems. Rooftop and building-mounted solar energy equipment/systems are permitted in all zoning districts in the Town of Stillwater subject to the following conditions:
Special use permits, site plan review or building permits shall be required for installation of all rooftop and building-mounted solar energy equipment systems. A building permit will be required for all residential roof-mounted equipment. Roof-mounted equipment on commercial structures shall be reviewed as part of the site plan review process.
Rooftop and building-mounted solar energy equipment/systems shall not exceed the maximum allowed height of the principal use in any zoning district.
Rooftop equipment must have a three-foot setback from the edge of the roof on all four sides. Equipment on roofs with hips and valleys shall not be located less than 18 inches from a hip or a valley where panels or modules are to be placed on both sides of a hip or a valley.
Rooftop structures must be properly engineered to support collectors.
Rooftop units must be installed according to manufacturer's specifications.
Panels and modules shall not be located less than three feet below the roof ridge.
Fire safety and emergency access.
In order to ensure firefighter and other emergency responder safety, except in the case of accessory buildings under 1,000 square feet in area, there shall be a minimum perimeter area around the edge of the roof and structurally supported pathways to provide space on the roof for walking around all rooftop and building-mounted solar energy equipment/systems. Additionally, installations shall provide for adequate access and spacing in order to:
Exceptions to these requirements may be requested from the Code Enforcement Officer where access, pathway or ventilation concerns are reduced due to:
Unique site specific limitations;
Alternative access opportunities (as from adjoining roofs);
Ground-level access to the roof area in question;
Other adequate ventilation opportunities when approved by the Code Enforcement Officer;
Adequate ventilation is afforded by panel setback from other rooftop equipment (for example: shading or structural constraints may leave significant areas open for ventilation near HVAC equipment.);
Automatic ventilation devices; or
New technology, methods, or other innovations that otherwise ensure adequate emergency responder access, pathways and ventilation exists.
Ground-mounted racks and freestanding solar energy equipment systems.
Ground-mounted and freestanding solar energy systems mounted on a pole are permitted as accessory structures in all zoning districts of the Town of Stillwater, subject to the following conditions:
Special use permit, site plan review or building permits are required for all ground-mounted and freestanding solar energy systems.
A minimum lot size of 1.00 acre is required for all residential uses.
A maximum total surface area of freestanding or ground-mounted solar energy systems shall not exceed the square footage of the building footprint of the primary structure on the lot, excluding decks, patios, balconies, screened or open porches, and attached garages. Nonresidential placements exceeding this size may be considered, subject to special use permit review by the Planning Board.
The area beneath the ground-mounted or freestanding solar energy system shall be considered in calculating whether the lot meets the maximum permitted lot coverage for that district and shall be considered impervious area for reasons of stormwater management.
The location of the solar energy systems must meet all applicable setback requirements for accessory structures in the applicable zoning district.
The collector and system must be installed in a side or rear yard.
Equipment, wires or poles shall not exceed 10 feet in height from the ground for any uses.
The Town encourages installations that would employ landscape screening and other methods of enhancing the appeal of the ground-mounted and freestanding solar energy equipment/system such as the use of architectural features, earth berms, or other screening which will harmonize with the character of the property and surrounding area.
In addition to the above requirements in this chapter, solar energy systems and equipment shall be issued building permits only if the Town of Stillwater Code Enforcement Officer determines that the proposed solar energy system does not present any unreasonable safety risks, including, but not limited to, the following:
These items must be certified by a certified engineer and submitted in a report as part of the building permit application.
As-built drawings will be required prior to issuance of a certificate of compliance by the Town Code Enforcement Officer.
Action upon discontinuance of use; removal.
Where a special use permit and/or site plan is required for solar energy equipment, solar thermal systems, farms and plants, they are required to be renewed every five years for a maximum permitted life of 15 years. If any solar energy equipment has not been in operation for a period of four months, the equipment, system, farm or plant shall be decommissioned as provided herein.
The applicant shall submit to the Planning Board a letter of intent committing the land owner, and his/her successors in interest, to notify the Director of Building and Planning within 30 days of the discontinuance of use of the solar energy equipment. This letter shall be filed with the Director of Building and Planning prior to issuance of a building permit (assuming the solar energy equipment tower is approved according to this chapter). Inoperative or unused solar energy equipment and accessory structures shall be removed from any site within four months of such notification. Failure to notify and/or to remove the inoperative or unused solar energy equipment in accordance with these regulations shall be a violation of this chapter and shall be punishable according to Article XVIII of the Town of Stillwater Zoning Code (Chapter 210 of the Town Code). The Planning Board shall also require the submission of a letter of credit guaranteeing the removal of said equipment in the amount of $1,000 per 100 square feet of equipment surface area to be increased by 10% at each five-year renewal to be used in the event that the property owner fails to remove the solar energy equipment within the four months of it becoming inoperative or unused.
§ 170-5 Construction and placement requirements for solar farms and solar power plants; permits required.
Location. Solar farms and solar power plants shall be permitted in the Business Park (BP), Industrial District (ID), Route 67 Business Overlay District, or in an Alternative Energy Overlay District to be created, as an electric-generating use subject to a special use permit and site plan review by the Planning Board, subject to the following supplementary regulations.
Fencing. The solar farm and any accessory structures shall be adequately enclosed by an eight-foot fence, the design of which shall be approved by the Planning Board. This requirement may be waived by the Planning Board if the applicant demonstrates that such measures are unnecessary to ensure the security of the facility.
The manufacturer's or installer's identification and appropriate warning signage shall be posted at the entrance to the site and made clearly visible.
Solar farm and solar power plant buildings, equipment and accessory structures shall, to the extent reasonably possible, use materials, colors, and textures that will blend the facility into the existing environment.
Landscaping and screening.
Appropriate landscaping and/or screening materials shall be required at the discretion of the Planning Board to help screen the solar power plant, equipment and accessory structures from major roads and neighboring residences, or important viewsheds.
The average height of the solar panel arrays shall not exceed 12 feet from the ground at their maximum height.
Solar farm and solar power plant panels and equipment shall be surfaced, designed and sited so as not to reflect glare onto adjacent properties and roadways.
On-site power lines shall be placed underground.
No solar energy structure or equipment/system shall be constructed unless each piece of equipment, along with its dimensions and locations, is accurately depicted on the approved site plan.
Action upon discontinuance of use; removal.
Where a special use permit and/or site plan is required for solar energy equipment, solar thermal systems, farms and plants, they are required to be renewed every five years for a maximum permitted life of 15 years, or the equipment has not been in operation for a period of four months, at which time the equipment, system, farm or plant shall be decommissioned as provided herein.
The applicant shall submit to the Board a letter of intent committing the land owner, and his/her successors in interest, to notify the Director of Building and Planning within 30 days of the discontinuance of use of the solar energy equipment. This letter shall be filed with the Director of Building and Planning prior to issuance of a building permit (assuming the solar energy equipment tower is approved according to this chapter). Inoperative or unused solar energy equipment and accessory structures shall be removed from any site within four months of such notification. Failure to notify and/or to remove the inoperative or unused solar energy equipment in accordance with these regulations shall be a violation of this chapter and shall be punishable according to Article XVIII of the Town of Stillwater Zoning Code (Chapter 210 of the Stillwater Town Code). The Planning Board shall also require the submission of a letter of credit guaranteeing the removal of said equipment in the amount of $1,000 per 100 square feet of equipment surface area, to be increased by 10% at each five-year renewal, to be used in the event that the property owner fails to remove the solar energy equipment within four months of it becoming inoperative or unused.
The site shall be restored to as natural a condition as possible within three months of the removal.
Pursuant to New York Town Law §§ 274-a, 274-b and 130, a bond or letter of credit approved by the Attorney for the Town in the amount determined above by the Department of Building, Planning and Development to effectuate decommissioning by the Town shall be posted by the property owner, the owner of the equipment or by the system operator with the Town Clerk as a condition to a special use permit and/or site plan approval and be continued for the entire period of operation and until the Town certifies that the solar farm/solar plant with all related equipment has been removed from the site and all the Town's expenses incurred for such removal have been paid.
Inactive solar farms/power plant equipment may be removed by the Town at the owner or operator's expense any time after four months of continuous inactivity and 20 days after serving written notice thereof, or immediately upon an emergency. The owner and operator give the Town permission to enter upon the owner's land to inspect and remove the inactive solar energy equipment and assess the cost of such removal against the property owner and as a tax upon the real property.
All solar energy equipment/system installations must be performed by a qualified solar installer. Proof of qualification must be submitted at the time of application for building permit.
Prior to operation, solar energy equipment/system installations must be inspected by a Town Code Enforcement Officer, certified third party electrician, or by a specialized consultant hired by the Town at the applicant's expense, as determined by the Town Code Enforcement Officer.
Any connection to the public utility grid must be inspected by the appropriate public utility.
Solar energy equipment/systems shall be maintained at all times in good working order.
Rooftop and building-mounted solar energy equipment/systems shall meet New York's Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code standards.
If solar storage batteries are included as part of the solar energy equipment/system, they must be placed in a secure container or enclosure meeting the requirements of the New York State Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code and when no longer used shall be disposed of in accordance with the laws and regulations of the Town of Stillwater and other applicable laws and regulations.
Marking of equipment.
Solar energy systems and equipment shall be marked in order to provide emergency responders with appropriate warning and guidance with respect to isolating the solar electric system. Materials used for marking shall be weather-resistant. For residential applications, the marking may be placed within the main service disconnect. If the main service disconnect is operable with the service panel closed, then the marking should be placed on the outside cover.
For commercial application, the marking shall be placed adjacent to the main service disconnect in a location clearly visible from the location where the lever is operated.
In addition to the above requirements in this chapter, solar energy systems and equipment shall be permitted only if they are determined by the Town not to present any unreasonable safety risks, including, but not limited to, the following:
Solar energy equipment/systems and related equipment shall be surfaced, designed and sited so as not to reflect glare onto adjacent properties and roadways. Glare shall be considered an impact to be evaluated under SEQRA.
The fees for all applications and building permits required pursuant to this chapter shall be paid at the time each application is submitted and in such reasonable amount as the Town Board may by resolution establish and amend from time to time.
Except as otherwise provided elsewhere, if an individual or entity is found to be in violation of the provisions of this chapter, appeals should be made in accordance with established procedures of the Town of Stillwater Zoning Code.
If a building permit for a solar energy device is denied because of a conflict with other Town laws or the State Building Code, the applicant may seek relief from the Town of Stillwater Zoning Board of Appeals which shall regard solar energy as a factor to be considered, weighed and balanced along with other factors considered by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Articles XVII and XVIII of the Town Zoning Code apply to violations of this article and penalties for offenses.
Solar energy equipment shall not be sited within any required buffer area.
The total surface area of all ground-mounted and freestanding solar energy equipment systems on a lot shall not exceed the area of the ground covered by the building structure of the largest building on the lot measured from the exterior walls, excluding patios, decks, balconies, screened and open porches and attached garages, provided that nonresidential placements exceeding this size may be approved by the Planning Board, subject to site plan review.
The area beneath ground-mounted and freestanding solar energy equipment systems shall be included in calculating whether the lot meets maximum permitted lot building coverage and lot surface coverage requirements for the applicable district, notwithstanding that the collectors are not buildings.
New York Public Service Law Article 10 shall be considered for applications by major electric-generating facilities of at least 25 MW.
If any word, phrase, sentence, part, section, subsection, or other portion of this chapter or any application thereof to any person or circumstance is declared void, unconstitutional, or invalid for any reason, then such word, phrase, sentence, part, section, subsection, or other portion, or the proscribed application thereof, shall be severable, and the remaining provisions of this chapter and all applications thereof not having been declared void, unconstitutional, or invalid, shall remain in full force and effect.
Where this chapter differs or conflicts with other laws, rules and regulations, unless the right to do so is preempted or prohibited by the county, state or federal government, the law which is more restrictive or protective of the Town and public shall apply.
This chapter is enacted pursuant to the Municipal Home Rule Law. This chapter shall supersede the provisions of the Town Law to the extent it is inconsistent with the same, and to the extent permitted by the New York State Constitution, the Municipal Home Rule Law, or any other applicable statute.
The Town of Stillwater does not have protected access to sunlight provisions. As such, in order for a property owner to protect future access to direct sunlight for their solar systems, the Town encourages the property owner to obtain solar easements from adjoining property owners in accordance with New York Real Property Law § 335-b. Failure on the part of the property owner to secure solar easements can be a factor for the Planning Board to weigh when reviewing an application, action or activity that may impact, obscure, block or interfere with sunlight reaching a property owner's solar collectors.
The tax exemption provided by § 487 of the New York Real Property Tax Law (RPTL), as amended from time to time, shall not apply to any solar energy equipment/systems, farm and plant applications in the Town of Stillwater. The Town of Stillwater hereby gives notice to any owner of property that proposes to construct a solar energy system that the Town hereby elects to opt-out of providing the tax exemption otherwise available under RPTL § 487 for solar energy equipment, systems, farms or plant applications.
This chapter shall become effective after certification by the Town Clerk/Attorney for the Town and upon filing it at the Secretary of State's office, or immediately upon a person or entity personally served with a copy thereof after its adoption by the Town Board.