State and County Legislators, Municipal Leaders and Advocates Urge Passage of Legislation to Streamline Solar Canopy Construction

Watch the press conference here

OSSINING, NY: Led by Assemblywoman Dana Levenberg, a group of state and county legislators, municipal leaders, and advocates gathered earlier today near the solar canopy at Brookside Elementary School for a press conference to urge lawmakers in the State Assembly to pass legislation streamlining the construction of more such canopies. “New York is missing out on hundreds of kilowatts of clean, renewable energy every year from solar canopies like these because of a well-intentioned law that needs updating,” said Levenberg.

Levenberg is the Assembly sponsor for Assembly Bill 7269, which would remove a key obstacle to the construction of solar energy projects in the parking lots of parks. Under current law, municipalities must request permission from the Legislature if they want to use any aspect of a park for a non-park use, a process called “alienation of parkland.” This law helps New York State protect its parks and strike a balance between open, public space and private development. But currently, it also precludes any changes to the airspace directly above a park’s parking lot. A.7269 would create an exemption for this airspace, removing an onerous, costly, and time-consuming obstacle to the building of more solar canopies in optimal places.

Solar canopies in parking lots present the opportunity to put infrastructure generating clean, renewable power close to existing utility distribution systems, thus avoiding the high costs and local opposition that typically exists for the construction of new transmission systems. Additionally, because the land has already been cleared for parking, there is usually no need to cut down trees. The canopies can also create new revenue streams for local municipalities at no cost through New York State’s Build-Ready program, and can save local residents and businesses money. The airspace is typically leased to a solar power developer, and in return, discounts are often applied to individual, commercial and municipal electric bills.

State Senator Pete Harckham originated the companion bill, S.1179, in the State Senate, where it has passed three times despite languishing in the Assembly. The idea was sparked when Assemblyman Matt Slater, then a Town Supervisor, confronted the alienation of parkland obstacle during a solar canopy project in Yorktown. Harckham and his staff crafted the legislation to help municipalities throughout the state avoid the alienation of parkland obstacle altogether. “This solar canopy legislation will advance renewable energy projects in municipal parks and help in our effort to fight the climate crisis. By streamlining the approval process, we will be able to advance more solar projects, create more clean, renewable energy, reduce carbon emissions and produce revenue for our municipalities,” said Harckham. “I am grateful to my colleagues in the State Senate for supporting and passing this legislation three years straight, and I thank Assemblymember Levenberg for renewing the push for this important initiative in the Assembly.”

In addition to the supporters gathered for today’s conference, the bill has garnered 21 Assembly co-sponsors and the support of the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter and New York Climate Reality. Levenberg called for municipalities to pass resolutions in support of A.7269 and for advocacy groups to send memos of support. Her office has also created a petition that individual New York State residents can sign to help demonstrate the bill’s popularity to Assembly leadership.

“In 2024, we must pass A.7269,” said Levenberg. “We need to remove every obstacle we can to new renewable energy projects. This legislation is a win-win-win - for the climate, for our pocketbooks, and even for our cars, which would benefit from shade on hot days while we enjoy our local parks.”

“This legislation offers a common-sense way to help New York State meet its climate targets, while still supporting our Parks service’s mission of environmental stewardship. It also stands to bring physical improvements to sites where solar canopies will provide welcome shade while doing their work to generate clean, renewable energy. That’s a win-win for all of us.” -Assemblymember MaryJane Shimsky, 92nd District

"As a member of the Environmental Conservation Committee of the New York State Assembly, I am an ardent supporter of pursuing any reasonable opportunity to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. This bill makes use of municipal facilities for solar canopies, without in any way compromising the parkland that the parking lots serve. I applaud Senator Harckham and Assemblywoman Levenberg for this terrific proposal." -Assemblymember Chris Burdick, 93rd District

"We need to mobilize every possible resource to decarbonize New York's energy system and protect a livable future. With solar canopies, we can turn parking lots into sources of abundant, renewable energy—a common sense idea we must clear every hurdle to achieving. I thank Assemblymember Levenberg and Senator Harckham for their legislation and look forward to passing it with bipartisan support in the 2024 session." -Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, 50th District

“Increasing our ability to provide greater renewable energy resources is a priority for the residents of Westchester County and New York State as a whole. Utilizing solar energy is fundamental to achieving this goal. This bill will allow us to create renewable projects that will provide more green jobs while decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels.” -Westchester County Legislator Colin Smith, 1st District 

“Thank you to Assemblywoman Levenberg and Senator Harckham for this practical and important legislation. By using these parking lots to generate solar energy without having to go through administrative hoops with the State each time, more municipalities can harness renewable energy and preserve natural resources. It’s a win-win.” -Westchester County Legislator Catherine Borgia, 9th District

"One of my top priorities as an incoming County Legislator is to find opportunities for renewable energy generation right here in Northern Westchester. Using the airspace above parking lots for solar energy projects makes a valuable use of this space that would otherwise sit empty. Using this approach has the added benefit of not impacting the natural environment or sacrificing any natural land. But, right now, outdated state regulations prevent us from using parkland parking lots for solar energy development without jumping through unnecessary hoops. Thank you to Assemblymember Levenberg & Senator Harckham for prioritizing common sense legislation to help us modernize our laws and confront the climate crisis." -Westchester County Legislator-elect Emiljana Ulaj, 9th District 

“As we transition to renewable energy and away from dirty fossil fuels, adding these solar canopies to our Westchester County, local, and New York State parks parking lots is a must. The added benefits are endless - from keeping cars shaded from weather extremes (especially heat), to being able to add EV charging in remote areas, to being able to channel stormwater to managed collection areas. As I always say, look at the massive, expansive lots out on Jones Beach; who wouldn’t want to come back to a cool and fully-charged vehicle? Here in Westchester, we have our share of large County park parking lots where we could be injecting the grid with clean, renewable, and inexpensive electricity. The clock is ticking; let’s get this done now. Thank you to Assemblymember Levenberg and Senator Harckham for helping to make it so.” -Westchester County Director of Energy Conservation & Sustainability Peter McCartt

“The passage of Assembly Bill 7269 and Senate Bill 1179 would be a simple but very impactful step to help local municipalities reach our climate goals. I am very thankful that our State representatives, Assemblywoman Dana Levenberg and Senator Pete Harckham, are listening to the communities’ challenges and working together to remove barriers to reaching our renewable energy goals. Releasing municipalities from the alienation of parkland requirements for solar canopy projects in the parking lots of parks will reduce the cost and complexity of implementing these projects thereby incentivizing more communities to explore them.” -Town of Ossining Supervisor Liz Feldman

“The Town of Cortlandt has been working to move forward with sustainability projects to benefit our residents and the environment. Unfortunately, legal technicalities regarding alienation of parkland senselessly hinder municipalities from moving forward with beneficial solar canopy projects in the parking lots of parks, and we thank Assemblymember Levenberg and Senator Harckham for championing this common sense bill that will simplify the steps necessary to bring our communities closer to our renewable energy goals.” -Town of Cortlandt Deputy Supervisor Jim Creighton

“Croton-on-Hudson strongly supports A.7269/S.1179 and we are grateful to Assemblywoman Dana Levenberg and Senator Pete Harckham for their leadership on these bills. Preventing ‘alienation of parkland’ has served New Yorkers well over the years. But as our climate crisis deepens and our solar energy potential grows, our laws must evolve to meet the needs of tomorrow. When feasible, carefully planned solar arrays over the parking lots of our public parks will mean progress for us all. That’s the promise of A72689/S.1179 and therefore, we look forward to the passage of this important legislation in 2024.” -Village of Croton-On-Hudson Deputy Mayor Len Simon

"As Deputy Mayor of Ossining, I enthusiastically support Bill A7269, spearheaded by Assemblywoman Dana Levenberg and Senator Pete Harckham. It's about time we cut through the red tape and let the sun do its magic. Solar panels above parking lots turn mundane spaces into powerhouses of clean energy. This is a bold move towards a greener, cleaner state." -Village of Ossining Deputy Mayor Omar Lopez

“I wholeheartedly agree we need to work harder to meet our ambitious goal of 70% of our energy from renewables by 2030. I support the A.7269 and S.1179 bills to allow adding solar canopy projects to parking lots in our parks as a very practical step in the right direction.” -Peekskill City Councilwoman Kathleen Talbot

“Our transition to a renewable energy system is not happening rapidly enough to avoid the most damaging environmental, health, and economic impacts of climate change. This is smart legislation that helps focus solar development on places like parking lots instead of forests or other important environmental areas.” -Philipstown Town Councilman Jason Angell

“I applaud Assemblywoman Levenberg and Senator Harckham for introducing this important legislation.Now more than ever we need to maximize the opportunity for solar energy usage.This bill will provide communities across the state with the chance to increase investments in solar energy.Thank you both for taking the initiative to make this happen.” -Philipstown Town Councilwoman Judy Farrell

"Distributed resources provide immense value to our energy infrastructure. They reduce transmission costs, increase resilience, and can be deployed at a quicker pace to help reduce our dependence on toxic oil and gas. The fossil fuel industry and its allies are engaged in a nationwide disinformation campaign against clean energy to stir up 'local' opposition to large wind and solar projects, many of which are being delayed or canceled as a result. This bill will help remove unnecessary barriers to small solar projects that can pick up some of the shortfall." -Anshul Gupta, Policy & Research Director, New Yorkers for Clean Power

“We applaud Assemblywoman Levenberg and Senator Harckham for sponsoring this legislation. We can no longer prohibit parkland parking lots from being energy and revenue producers under antiquated laws.We must embrace opportunities to build solar canopies that could also support EV chargers that would promote more use of EVs, along with battery storage, which would contribute resiliency to the grid.This legislation is a step in the right direction to modernize land use policy and would help the urgent need to stabilize our climate systems.”-Chandu Visweswariah, Chair, Croton 100

“As many of our eyes have been on COP28 and concerned with global commitments to phase out fossil fuel- all while the fossil fuel industry continues to spin disinformation - we need do our part and work locally to find every opportunity to transition to clean renewable energy in order to electrify and decarbonize as quickly as possible. Eliminating and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the maximum extent possible must be our highest priority in this decisive decade. To that end, we need to make it easier for localities to access clean, renewable energy and put up more solar canopies like the one we are standing beside today. Community solar makes solar energy more broadly available to residents who cannot host rooftop solar because of feasibility, income, or renter restrictions. This bill is a no-brainer in community investment. I'm grateful to Assemblymember Levenberg and Senator Harckham for sponsoring this important legislation."-Suzie Ross, Chair, Green Ossining/Co-Chairperson, Climate Reality Project-Westchester Chapter