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Swiss Re

Solar Energy to Power North Castle

June 23, 2016
On June 22, North Castle’s Town Board held a public hearing for new legislation regarding the installation of solar energy systems for residential, commercial, and multi-family communities. Currently, the Town code allows solar panels as a permitted accessory use in every zoning district, said Adam Kaufman, Director of Planning. But Kaufman added that the language of the Town’s code did not contemplate the type of solar energy project that Swiss Reinsurance Company is proposing and therefore Swiss Re’s application has lead to the proposal of a new local law.

The Town Board simultaneously opened the public hearing for a special use permit for Swiss Re America Corporation’s installation of approximately 9,000 ground-mounted solar panels. The panels, ranging from two to eight feet high, will face south and are projected to provide 2.2 megawatts of energy. The solar array will be located on 9.6 acres of what is now meadow lands with the panel array’s portion surrounded by a 42” fence. The 120-acre property of Swiss Re America Headquarters is located at 175 King Street, Armonk, on Route 120. Swiss Re’s landscape plans include clearing of the overgrown sections surrounding the solar array area and replanting where necessary to provide screening from the road.

The 360,000-square feet building and the almost 900-car parking garage is located within 1,000 feet from the Kensico Reservoir.

Swiss Re’s design professionals say New York State Environmental Conservation Department is not concerned about the project’s impacts on the reservoir and therefore they do not require a stormwater pollution prevention plan. Swiss Re does plan to install erosion controls underneath the panels for the runoff water to go directly into the ground.

Swiss Re anticipates that 60 percent of their electrical needs will be supplied by the solar array. The system cannot be used at night, so that reduces the potential for 100 percent of solar energy supply. The technology to store solar energy in batteries, which would supply all of their required energy, is not yet available.

The Federal Aviation Administration determined that the solar array at Swiss Re will not be an obstruction to air navigation at the nearby Westchester County Airport.

The consideration of the Town’s regulations for new solar infrastructure applies to the different types of solar energy systems. Flush-mounted solar panels are installed flush on a rooftop, while a freestanding or ground-mounted solar energy system, such as Swiss Re is proposing, is not attached to a structure. There are also solar-thermal systems that directly heat water or other liquids--and use sunlight for space heating, cooling, and the heating of domestic hot water and pool water.

A simple review and a building permit will be required for installation of all of the Town’s residential rooftop and building-mounted solar systems, said Kaufman. However, small scale (production up to ten kilowatts per hour) and large scale (production of more than ten kilowatts per hour) ground-mounted and freestanding solar collectors will not be permitted in residential districts. The small and large scale ground-mounted and freestanding solar collectors will require site approvals and special permits to review various requirements of setbacks, maximum heights, and adequate screening.

All solar installations will require specific code requirements, inspections and proper maintenance. Permission will not be granted if the systems present any unreasonable safety risks such as weight load, wind resistance, or blocking of ingress and egress of emergency vehicles.

A layer of protection has been built into the legislation if a solar collector ceases to perform for 12 consecutive months. Property owners will be required to remove the system or the Town will do so after a public hearing; the cost of removal will be charged and assessed against the property owner.

Supervisor Michael Schiliro said, “From an environmental standpoint, this legislation is good forward progress and is consistent with the Town’s Comprehensive Plan.”

North Castle’s Planning Board recently sent two positive recommendations to the Town Board to adopt the new regulation of Solar Infrastructure Siting and to issue a special permit to Swiss Re.

Town Board member Jose Berra is an avid supporter of solar energy. Although he said there is a learning process to regulate solar energy, he would like to see the Town Board members move slowly on the legislation as they learn from the Swiss Re project.

The public hearing for the new legislation was adjourned, giving the Town Board, the Town Planner, and the Town Attorney an opportunity to further review some of the proposed changes and to redraft the legislation that will hopefully be acceptable for adoption at the Town Board’s July 13 meeting, said Roland Baroni, Town Attorney.

Given that the Town Board will most likely adopt the new legislation at its next meeting, they then plan to proceed forward with Swiss Re’s special use permit at the following meeting on July 27.

Swiss Re anticipates their application process to move forward and if so, they scheduled their site plan to be reviewed by the Planning Board on August 1 with the goal to have the solar array installed before the ground freezes in the winter.

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