Rochester’s solar array bylaws, explained

Nov 10, 2020

ROCHESTER — With large solar array projects coming to the town in the future, Chair Arnold Johnson and Town Planner Steven Starrett took the time at an Oct. 17 meeting to go over the town’s solar bylaws to clear up any confusion.

Starrett said that there has been misinformation floating around on a Rochester-related Facebook group about solar regulations for the town. 

“We have the strictest bylaw in the Tri-Town,” Johnson said.

Any array that outputs 200 kilowatts of energy or higher is deemed a large scale commercial property which needs a special permit.

Commercial arrays have to be 300 feet away from any public road, and 100 feet away from the end of any abuting property with a screening in between. Plus the distance needed to ensure that the panels are not in the sightline of any home from the first floor.

To do this, the town sends someone to each abuting home to shoot out sightline grids from the front to measure the base height of the view. 

There has to be enough screening coverage between the property and the array so that no one can view them. Trees are planted to make screenings, and the trees on an owner’s property do not count as screening.

A screening for a commercial property that has residents nearby has to undergo flag testing.

A flag test is when a flagpole is placed  in a solar array to see if outsiders can spot it over the screening. If the flag can’t be seen, then the screening is good. If it can be seen, the screening needs to be heightened or the ground needs to be lowered. 

The test is done as many times as needed throughout the project.

If the flag can be seen during any test, adjustments need to be made before the project goes ahead any further.

For decommissioning arrays, the owners enter into two long-term financial bonds with the town to cover the cost of returning the land back to its natural state.

The first bond is a decommissioning bond, which accounts for the full cost of what it will take to break down the site, adjusted for inflation over the lifetime of the decommissioning process.

The second bond is a landscape/maintenance bond, which is a five-year agreement for the owners to take on any cost for upkeep of the land. This includes landscaping, road work, drain maintenance and any other aspect that needs to be fixed.

In regards to rulings on solar arrays, Johnson said they are “not a popularity contest.”