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Greenfield Town Board OKs Skidmore solar array zoning

Friday, December 6, 2013
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— The Greenfield Town Board has approved a controversial zoning change that will allow Skidmore College to install a large solar array on land it owns off Denton Road.

The board’s 4-1 vote Thursday night in favor of creating a special planned unit development zone for the project followed months of discussion and debate. A number of people living in the surrounding area have opposed it.

Town Supervisor Richard Rowland said approving the project was the right move, since it would reduce reliance on fossil fuel-produced electricity.

The array of nearly 7,000 photovoltaic solar panels will be installed on about eight acres of a 120-acre property Skidmore owns off Denton Road, west of the main campus in Saratoga Springs. Part of the property has the college’s polo and recreational fields on it, but the zoning for the area calls for medium-density residential and agricultural uses.

Rowland said the project fits in the area.

“It’s open space,” Rowland said. “It’s not going to be a building, and it’s not going to be a warehouse, and it’s not going to be an airport. We’re going to be doing something that is good for the environment.”

Councilman Tom Kinsella, the only board member to vote against the rezoning, said a large solar array doesn’t belong in that part of town, where water and sewer extensions will make more residential development possible.

“I don’t think it fits what a PUD should be used for, and I don’t think it fits with that part of town or what our comprehensive plan calls for in that area,” Kinsella said.

The array will be located about 800 feet from the road and surrounded by a six-foot-high fence, which Rowland said should be high enough to hide the solar panels from neighbors. There also will be new vegetation screening, he said, and the college is posting a $25,000 bond to guarantee the screening.

The array’s location was moved eastward during the discussions to put it farther from neighbors.

The college applied for the zoning change in May. With the zoning approval in place, the project still needs site plan approval from the town Planning Board, which may take several months.

Once it has that approval, construction should take two or three months, said Mike Hall, special assistant to Skidmore’s vice president for finance and administration.

“We look forward to working with the Planning Board and the town on the next steps for the project, which we hope to start soon,” a college statement said. “We continue to believe the project has great benefits for the town and the college.”

During negotiations, the college agreed to not further develop the property, and to make “development agreement” payments to the town of around $500,000 over the next 20 years.

“That property doesn’t pay any taxes now,” Rowland said. “That [payment] is a benefit to the community, to the taxpayers as a whole.”

The photovoltaic system would generate about 2.6 million kilowatt hours of power per year, which Skidmore officials say is equal to 12 percent of the college’s power use.

The project is being aided by a $2.35 million grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, awarded under the state’s NY SUN Initiative. The array’s electricity will be sold into the commercial power grid, with the college receiving credits against its electric bill.

The array will be constructed by Dynamic Energy Solutions of Wayne, Pa. As a private entity, it is eligible for federal solar energy tax credits that make the project financially feasible, Hall said.

 
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