General Solar Questions
Solar developers should be committed to speaking with residents and neighbors early in the planning process about appropriate setbacks and visual buffering such as planting trees and shrubs to help better integrate this project into the community. Everyone’s situation is unique, but developers need to be sensitive to the communities and neighbors who will be impacted in one way or another. Towns that have passed laws guiding the development of solar projects will normally have height restrictions, visual buffering and setbacks that need to be integrated to help protect the community character. Neighbors of projects are encouraged to dialog with the project developers early in the process to better understand any interests and determine if anything can be done to the project design to help address some of the interests.

Upstate New York has large load centers (places where electricity is consumed), including Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. The New York power grid is designed to take electricity from generators to users. That electricity generated by solar projects will be used up first locally depending on the demand, and flow towards the load to be consumed as necessary. Much of the electricity that is generated by projects within Niagara County is expected to be consumed locally and in the Buffalo and Rochester areas. The balance of the electricity is anticipated to be consumed within upstate New York with a small percentage delivered to New York City. This is not unlike other products like dairy, corn, vegetables and grains that are produced locally, feeding both rural and urban centers.

New York ISO Grid & Markets Report

Solar facilities are enclosed by a fence and hunting can take place outside of the fenced area. There are no setbacks.

Energy storage is an important element of a future clean electricity system. Wind and solar is energy is intermittent, producing electricity when the sun shines or the wind blows. Energy storage coupled with wind and solar allows for the energy to be stored when not needed, and injected into the grid when it is needed. Some areas are even looking at integrating energy storage as ways to offset peaker plants (generators that only produce electricity when electricity loads are highest during the year, such as on hot sunny days when lots of air conditioning is needed).

While there have been some incidents in the past, energy storage is safe. DNV GL, a leader in energy storage risk evaluation and safety testing, have facilities in the United States, including Rochester, where they observe things like thermal runaway to better understand how to safely deploy energy storage by incorporating the appropriate mitigation measures.

Energy storage technologies have seen tremendous growth around the world in the past few years.  These technologies serve many purposes, including: stabilizing our power grid and making the electricity more reliable, storing energy from renewable energy sources so it can be used at times when it is required, offsetting the costs for new generation facilities that are only required a few hours per year when New Yorkers need the most electricity.

Despite the rapid growth in the deployment of energy storage, New York continues to lead the way with the proactive development and enforcement of rules and regulations to safeguard public health and safety. The 2019 Energy Storage System Supplement is a new code that is enforced as of November 1, 2019. “These new provisions will require extra protective measures in all cases where [energy storage systems] are used; require extra protective measures based on the location of the installation; and otherwise enhance the level of protection to all people of the State from the potential hazard of fires caused by the installation and use of [energy storage systems]”. [SOURCE and NYSERDA]

The approach to managing biodiversity will be different for every solar farm. Developers should seek to maximize benefits for wildlife wherever possible. Soil health is essential for the sustainability of farming in the longer-term and solar farms could play an important role by resting soils through the life of the solar farm. For example, visual buffers planted around the outside of a facility can support a wide variety of wildlife, including plants, invertebrates, birds, reptiles and mammals. Birds, bats and small mammals can benefit from the provision of artificial nesting and roosting structures. Solar facilities can support pollinators by planting seeds to create a variety of native species bees prefer. Butterflies and solitary bees prefer sunny areas while stag beetles prefer shade. Log piles can also provide suitable conditions for reptiles, amphibians, lichens and fungi.  

Large scale solar facilities more than 25 MW in size will need to follow the Section 94-c permitting process. This process requires multiple public meetings and engagement of the local community. Project proponents need to study the land being proposed for the project to identify and mitigate any sensitive features such as wetlands and habitat for sensitive species. These studies and reports are reviewed by the Department of Environmental Conservation who will determine if the potential adverse environmental effects of the construction and operation of the facility will be minimized or avoided to the maximum extent practicable.

The land used for solar facilities can be used to plant specific crops that thrive underneath solar panels. The land will support the production of honey for bees that will have access to flowering plants at the facility. Farmers may also choose to raise sheep and offer a new market that supplies lamb and wool for the public. Sheep have been successfully used at multiple solar farms for several years. After the project is de-commissioned at the end of its useful life, the farmer/landowner will benefit from rejuvenated soils while they were able to earn an average of 1400% more profit per acre than if they planted commodity crops.

Developers cannot change zoning laws, only the local representatives can change those laws. Some towns have adopted solar laws that allow for solar projects within some zoning designations. Where projects comply with these solar laws, there is no rezoning required as part of the project. The zoning of neighboring properties is not affected. More commonly, towns have been trying to change local laws that make renewable energy projects incompatible with their town. Depending on the local laws, and when they were put in place, the NYS siting board may choose to deny the project or waive the local law if it is deemed to be unreasonable.

Photovoltaic (PV) technologies and solar inverters are not known to pose any significant health dangers to their neighbors. PV technologies employ few toxic chemicals and those used are used in very small quantities. Due to the reduction in the pollution from fossil-fuel-fired electric generators, the overall impact of solar development on human health is overwhelmingly positive. Solar PV panels typically consist of glass, polymer, aluminum, copper, and a semiconductor.

Solar panels being proposed for most solar projects are the same as the ones installed on homes and schools. The most common solar panels are crystalline silicon, made of silicon, glass, aluminum, copper and plastics. Some other elements are used very scarcely, but they are chemically bound in the wiring and are not exposed etc. They are non-toxic and safe. Electricity generated by solar panels does not create pollutants to the air, water or soil. No water is used in the generation of solar electricity.

These materials can be recovered and recycled at the end of their useful life.

Yes, solar does typically have a carbon footprint that is similar to or higher than wind or nuclear, but a much lower footprint than fossil fuels like gas or coal.

A recent study published in Nature Energy measuring the full lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of a range of sources of electricity indicate the following carbon footprint in grams of CO2 equivalent per kWh electricity produced…

4 gCO2e/kWh for nuclear

6gCO2e/kWh for solar

4gCO2e/kWh for wind

109 gCO2e/KWh for coal combined with carbon capture and storage

78 gCO2e/kWh for gas with carbon capture and storage

97 gCO2e/kWh for hydro

98 gCO2e/kWh for bioenergy


Solar developers prefer to use land that is already cleared on trees. Using existing farmland is less disruptive to the community, the ecosystem and less costly during the site preparation.

Developers normally look for cleared areas for siting solar projects. Wooded areas are sometimes difficult to permit or have difficult ground conditions for solar. Solar can be installed on slopes up to 10% or 15% grade, depending on the technology and other characteristics. Sometimes, wooded areas are also characterized as wetlands, and not appropriate for solar development. In some cases, after further study and characterization of the natural features, it could be possible to clear wooded areas for installation of solar panels.

Independent power producers who typically propose solar projects do not have access to eminent domain. In order for properties to be used to install any features, the companies need to enter into binding agreements with landowners with the consent of all parties.

Large-scale solar arrays often have no measurable impact on the value of adjacent properties, and in some cases may even have positive effects. See this study from SEIA which debunks the myth that solar energy decreases property value.

During the development process, people are employed conducting site surveys, permitting, community engagement, land acquisition and many more activities. A typical solar facility will need hundreds of local construction workers for an average of 2 years during the development. Once the facility is up and running, there will be dozens of jobs that may include raising sheep, beekeeping, landscaping and vegetation maintenance, as well as a handful of solar panel maintenance jobs.

Solar farms typically pay X amount of taxes per megawatt in the district it is harvested. These numbers can vary depending on the PILOT agreement that was reached with the respective towns as taxing solar panel equipment has not yet been standardized in New York State. This Solar facilities generate low revenues compared to its costs to build and operate. If paying full taxes, about 40% of project revenues would be paid in taxes, therefore the business would not be sustainable. Payments in Lieu of Taxes, PILOTs may be negotiated in specific circumstances, as when an arrangement is made for a corporation or institution to build a facility on public land without assuming ownership of the land. As an incentive for investment in taxable infrastructure or other facilities that create a public benefit, a PILOT may be negotiated to limit or defer the property taxes on a developer, striking a balance between public and private economic needs. In effect, the local taxpayers are subsidizing the development, which might otherwise have gone elsewhere. This has occurred in low income rural areas where large wind energy systems provide cost relief to the land owner and a tax payments to the locals that help improve schools, roads, fire departments and other programs municipalities decide to fund.

Community Benefits Webinar

These questions come directly from the Q&A in our webinar titled The Solar Energy Series: Episode 3: Jobs in Solar and Community Benefits

The NYSERDA PILOT calculator is the best guidance that renewable energy developers have.  There is also an attempt to keep a common methodology across the State so as not to create winners and losers based on the negotiated community benefit agreement and PILOT amounts from location to location.

Developers typically have a $/MW contribution number that is based on a certain % of project revenues that can be spent to benefit the local community, like the PILOT and one or both of a Host Community Agreement and/or helping to pay for electricity bills within the project area.  The host community ultimately gets to determine how these new revenues are allocated over the course of the project lifetime.  Revenues from the solar project can contribute on the order of 10 times more revenues for the Town, School District(s) and County then the previous taxes prior to the solar facility.

Developers are normally required to provide the following commitments with host towns:

  • A decommissioning security from the project owner in favor of the host town that needs to be in place prior to the start of construction to cover the cost of decommissioning the project and restoration of the land.
  • A road use agreement prior to the start of construction for the developer to pay for and repair any damages to public roads and right of ways that were caused by construction activities.
  • Landowners who participate by hosting project infrastructure like a substation, solar panels, or easements for electrical lines are compensated for the duration of the project.  These create long term stable revenues for landowners and in some cases allow them to keep their land (profitably) for future generations or to re-invest in other parts of their
  1. Developers typically need to complete a visual impact assessment as part of the permitting process.  This includes identifying representative landscapes and modeling what that landscape looks like once the project is installed.  As appropriate, this visual impact assessment can include the effect of including visual buffers like planting trees around sensitive areas of the project.  This helps the public understand what the project will look like and to better inform if and what type of visual buffering is appropriate.
  2. Part of the visual impact assessment is understanding any glare that can be produced by the project toward neighboring roads and homes by evaluating using software.  Solar panels typically have an anti-glare coating applied to them to reduce the severity of the glare.  Glare is typically not an issue, but usually depends on the project design and location relative to neighboring roads and receptors.

Yes, host community agreements can include negotiated elements on a case by case basis, such as job training and placement for the community.  However, developers will not want to include provisions that might not be achievable without putting their project in jeopardy based on schedule, cost or other factors.

  1. Some procurement programs, like the NYSERDA solicitation for renewable energy require developers to make a commitment for spending within New York – during construction and for the first three years of operation.  In some cases, certain materials are sourced locally, but need to meet certain criteria such as technical specifications, durability, costs, etc.  Since developers compete for the lowest cost of power in order to be successful, they need to rely on global markets to deliver projects at the best price possible for New York electricity ratepayers.
  2. Some developers, in an effort to help enhance local participation, will have their construction team conduct a public meeting prior to the start of construction to make introductions with local suppliers and contractors to help promote local opportunities.

Currently the environmental benefit has not been defined by the PSC. In our comments, Sierra Club is recommending energy efficiency as one example of what an environmental benefit could be given that it delivers both an environmental and immediate economic benefit in communities.

Developers are responsible to pay for the cost of interconnecting their projects.  Currently, it is up to the developer to conduct their own due diligence to understand their cost exposure to interconnect their projects.  Typically, developers will find places that require minimum upgrades and are more economical to interconnect to help keep their power prices low.

As part of the Community Leadership and Climate Protection Act, New York State is currently proposing electric grid upgrades to help accommodate additional renewable energy development.  For more information, please consult the following order form the New York State Service Commission.

SEQR applies for projects that are under 25 megawatts in size.  For projects above 25 megawatts, projects were permitted under the Article 10 permitting process.  Article 10 is now being replaced by Section 94-C.  For more on Section 94-C, please consult this link: https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/EXC/94-C. (might be a more useful link than this one)

USES is a grassroots community of advocates who support harvesting sunshine for emissions-free electricity.  USES believes that members of the public need to be informed about the realities of utility scale solar energy development, and is an independent information provider.  Communities where large-scale solar projects have been proposed are encouraged to network with USES members and participate in its events to learn more, share experiences and seek the facts.

There have been a lot of fascinating co-location trials done globally, usually on smaller scale projects. Vegetables and speciality crops like mushrooms and saffron have been trialed successfully. NREL studies have found that biomass and soil moisture retention on site was higher, contributing to higher yields. Other animals have been trialed such as cattle and goats. However, cows tend to rub on racking and goats tend to chew wires making them not great fits. The results of the crop trials are promising but have typically entailed some sort of specialty design such as wider rows or higher racking which might make their applicability to utility scale projects limited.

  1. NREL
  2. University of Arizona – UA Agrivoltaics Project Named as World Changing Ideas Finalist
  3. Amherst study
  4. Brighter Vermont – Saffron and Solar Farms A Win/Win for the Environment and Agriculture 
  5. Renewable Energy World – Japan Next-Generation Farmers Cultivate Crops and Solar Energy