A ray of sunshine or a distracting glare?

Bethel and Callicoon weigh the costs and benefits of renewable energy

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 7/21/21

SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — The future of solar power in New York State is bright—bright enough to power half a million homes.

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A ray of sunshine or a distracting glare?

Bethel and Callicoon weigh the costs and benefits of renewable energy

Posted

SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — The future of solar power in New York State is bright—bright enough to power half a million homes.

New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul announced on July 14 that three gigawatts of solar capacity have been installed across the state, putting New York halfway to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s goal of six gigawatts by 2025.

Hochul made the announcement at a ribbon-cutting for a 6.1-megawatt community solar project in the Town of Bethel, a project informally known as “17B.”

A little over 10 miles away, and two days earlier, the Town of Callicoon town board meeting highlighted the local work necessary to achieve that goal, with a public hearing on and adoption of a new town zoning law concerning solar energy and other renewables.

The meeting also highlighted the reservations held by Sullivan County residents about the adoption of renewable energy and the complexities involved in trying to regulate that adoption at the local level.

Regulations in Callicoon

The July 12 meeting was the second of two public hearings about Callicoon’s proposed law regulating renewable energy.

The law, known as “The Town of Callicoon Renewable Energy Systems Law,” was first proposed by the town board earlier this year. It proposed a new article of Callicoon’s zoning regulations, Chapter 203, Article IX, regulating the construction of renewable energy generating systems like solar arrays, wind farms and geothermal generators.

The aim of the law, as stated in its introductory provisions, was “to accommodate renewable energy generating systems... while balancing the potential impacts on neighbors and the environment.”

An early draft of the law was put before a public hearing in March. The residents who spoke at that hearing claimed the law put too much weight on the second goal and too little on the first.

“It seems that this draft law doesn’t seek to promote and protect but rather... to limit sustainable energy projects in the town and... the rights of property owners to install them,” said Youngsville resident Anne Hart.

The board took the public hearing to heart, going back and revising the law to take public concerns about its strictness into account. Their efforts paid off: While Callicoon residents offered minor quibbles with the law’s revised version at the second public hearing, they thanked the board for how the revisions responded to public sentiment.

The revisions tilted the law toward supporting the development of personal- and commercial-scale solar, with clearer and more reasonable regulations on their location and installation, while maintaining its emphasis on protecting the rural nature of Callicoon’s landscape.

“We want you to be able to use your property to make money,” said town supervisor Tom Bose. “As long as you don’t harm your neighbor.”

Board member Charles Schadt added to Bose’s sentiment, comparing a solar array to a junkyard: “Nobody wants it next to them, but it’s needed.”

The board passed the proposed law by unanimous vote.

Celebrations in Bethel

At the 17B ribbon cutting, attendees took a much less cautious tone in describing the opportunities and the benefits of renewable energy development in New York State.

Hochul talked of the opportunities and the jobs that the development of renewable energy had brought to New York State. Since the launch of the NY-Sun initiative in 2011, she said, solar growth is up 2,100 percent statewide while its price has dropped by 69 percent, and 12,000 jobs in solar energy have been created statewide.

Representatives from the agencies and the companies, which created the 17B project, including the president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority Doreen M. Harris, principal on the investment team of Generate Capital Peggy Flannery, and CEO of Delaware River Solar Rich Winter spoke to the strength of the public-private partnership in Sullivan County and to how that partnership makes projects like 17B possible.

Town supervisor Daniel Sturm added his voice to theirs, describing Bethel as a leader in that partnership and in state-wide renewability efforts: “We are a small municipality... but a mighty one, and a leader in sustainability.”

The landowner on whose farm the 17B project was built, Peter Hofstee, concluded the ribbon-cutting by describing solar as the newest in a long line of crops that he has harvested.

When it became less profitable to raise cattle, he said, “We stopped milking cows. Now we’re milking the sun.”

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