With two proposals for ground-mounted solar arrays currently being evaluated in Bedford — one adjacent to West Patent Elementary School and another on Baldwin Road — a variety of opinions have developed about the advantages and disadvantages of such projects.
Now, Bedford 2030 has put forth a possible framework to guide officials tasked with evaluating these solar proposals. The organization released its recommendations on Wednesday, saying it believes a framework must be put in place for the community to make informed decisions.
Bedford 2030 Chair Midge Iorio explained in an interview, “We have a new climate action plan that included input from the town board, the town department heads and the community. That’s a very productive way to bring something forward, so our suggestion is a similar process for addressing this need for a framework for solar siting in our community.”
Ms. Iorio noted that there are two priority strategies in the Climate Action Plan for reducing greenhouse gases that are relevant to evaluating solar projects. “One is to increase locally generated renewable energy, and the other is to sequester carbon through our trees, plants and soils in the Town of Bedford,” she said, “so that’s the lens through which we come to this.”
She said Bedford 2030 brought up the solar array issue late last year with Deirdre Courtney-Batson, chair of the Bedford Planning Board, and Director of Planning Jeff Ostermann. “That initial discussion, coupled with there being proposals on the table in our community and no framework for evaluating them, led to our developing this recommendation.”
The Bedford 2030 team, said Ms. Iorio, includes individuals with expertise in renewable energy, as well as those leading the organization’s new initiative on carbon capture, soil and trees. All of these areas come into play when evaluating solar projects, she explained.
The proposed framework, which is eight-pages long, delves into every facet of solar site selection. It takes into account New York state’s goal of generating 70% of electricity in the grid from renewable sources by 2030. It also references Scenic Hudson’s 2019 report on renewable energy in the Hudson Valley.
The action plan in the framework states, “Given the urgency of the climate crisis and the need for a solar siting framework in Bedford, Bedford 2030 recommends the immediate formation of a working group charged to take on this task in a thoughtful, inclusive and expedient manner.” Such a group would fulfill the recommendation that the town “institute a transparent and collaborative process for local solar planning, siting and assessment.”
Bedford 2030 would facilitate a working group that includes representatives from the planning department, planning board, conservation board, town board “and other select subject matter experts to develop a Solar Framework for evaluating projects.” The framework would ideally take the form of a scorecard to assess different project characteristics. It would include specific evaluation criteria and identify resources for accessing information that could also inform the evaluation process. The proposal also recommends that the framework include mitigation strategies that can compensate for ecosystem losses, such as soil erosion, that might result from a large solar project.
Once the framework is completed, Bedford 2030 recommends that the Town of Bedford “adopt a solar zoning ordinance that incorporates the agreed upon Solar Framework with the understanding that the ordinance itself does mean projects would be automatically approved.”
The proposed steps and timing include one to two weeks for forming a community working group; six to eight weeks for the working group to meet multiple times and draft a solar siting framework; and four to six weeks for review and adoption of the framework, including public comments and revisions. Work on drafting a solar zoning ordinance would follow as a last step.
Bedford 2030 suggests solar site proposals could fall into three categories. The first is “yes,” meaning the type of solar the town desires. Solar projects at these sites would be prioritized. The second is “no,” meaning the town will look to restrict building solar on these sites. And third is “maybe,” which require more information and further evaluation. “It will be the role of the community working group to ultimately recommend and define what types of sites or conditions fall into these three categories,” says the proposal.
Based on existing zoning, state and federal regulations and other factors, Bedford 2030 said, “we can begin to imagine the kinds of sites that would fit into the first two categories.” Those in the “yes” category include roof mounted systems; solar parking canopies; brownfield, landfill, and other “low value land.” Under the likely “no” category would be wetlands, habitat corridors, solar, that fragments contiguous habitat and/or forest land and disrupts clean water, carbon sequestration and other ecosystem services.
The complete Bedford 2030 framework proposal is available on the Bedford 2030 website at bedford2030.org.