According to a recent article in Forbes Magazine, citing a U.S. Department of Energy report, the solar industry now employs more people (374,000) in the United States than coal, gas and oil combined.
In New York State over 8,000 jobs are provided in the solar industry.
While California is well ahead of the rest of the country in solar jobs, interestingly it is because of its progressive policies and not because of its climate. New York is currently sixth in the nation (ahead of many sun-belt states such as Arizona), and likely on the rise due to the commitment and investment by the State government to promote and assist the expansion of clean solar energy throughout our state.
The jobs created by solar are in construction, installation, manufacturing, project development, and sales. All these jobs are good paying, sustainable employment. So, in addition to the laudable benefits of reduction of carbon footprints, since there is zero carbon emissions associated with solar power, and the reduction of dependence on fossil fuels, solar power is a great job generator as well.
However, if we want to continue to reap the benefits of the solar, it is incumbent upon municipalities in New York State to adopt reasonable regulations to not only regulate but to promote solar growth.
As with all zoning codes in New York State it starts with the Comprehensive Plan. Each municipality’s Comprehensive Plan should identify a plan to promote solar through modification of its zoning and also provide a commitment to support efforts to educate its citizens on the benefits of solar and how to take advantage of programs offered through NYSERDA, New York Sun, and other initiatives to promote solar both on an individual and collective basis.
The Comprehensive Plan can also identify areas within the municipality i.e. landfills or large tracks of land located near electric utility lines, that may be attractive for a solar developer that can not only provide clean energy, but also generate funds for a municipality.
For solar installations on residences, a municipality can and should adopt the New York State Unified Solar Permit which is an easy to understand permit application for a roof mounted or ground mounted solar array serving individual homes up to 25 kw in size. For medium sized facilities that may serve an individual business, a residential housing development or a group of homes, a municipality can adopt simple rules for an expedited review process to insure that the solar array, if ground mounted, is situated in a manner that will avoid disturbance of sensitive environmental features and provide appropriate screening if necessary.
For larger utility scale installations, the municipality can use its special use permit or site plan regulations to set standards which are clear and concise and once again help your Planning Board insure that these facilities are located in areas that will not substantially disturb important environmental features, and will be appropriately screened to the extent possible.
A municipality can also be more proactive and amend its zoning ordinances to require that any new construction, be it commercial, industrial or residential, is designated and arranged in a manner to maximize proper sun exposure to facilitate the use of solar power generation.
Finally, if you know a landowner who is approached by a solar company to lease property, let them contact an attorney to make sure the lease terms protect them as a property owner.
There are exciting opportunities available to us in the field of solar energy. It is up to us to make sure that we do whatever we can to take advantage of them.
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