GLOVERSVILLE — Troy-based Eden Renewables has proposed building a solar farm that would more closely resemble the company’s namesake than most energy generating projects.
The renewable energy firm wants to purchase 58 acres of the former Pine Brook Golf Course at 280 S. Main St. and build a 32-acre 7.5 MWP solar farm capable of supplying energy to an estimated 1,250 homes.
The firm not only wants the site to contain bee hives, wildflowers, and a community garden, but also have its lawn maintained by grazing sheep.
Gillian Black, the project manager for Eden Renewables, said his company has not only created similar sites capable of generating up to 300 MWP of electricity in the United Kingdom, but currently has 17 projects in various stages of development in the greater Capital Region. He said that building a new solar farm in Gloversville will cost somewhere between $8 million and $10 million.
In order for the proposed solar farm to proceed, the city’s planning board will need to grant Eden Renewables permission to construct a solar array in a residential area. It will also need to modify an existing ordinance to allow for the sheep.
“We’re dealing with a piece of property that has seen tremendous amounts of fertilizers and pesticides and it’s really an environmental wasteland. It might look good from top down, but the earth is in a pretty rough state, so we’re going to put solar arrays in there, and the soil is going to regenerate,” Black said. “We will put wildflowers in. We host beekeepers, both pros and amateurs, and the pros help manage the ‘newbies,’ pun intended.”
Mayor Vince DeSantis, who formerly served as Gloversville’s city judge, said he believes the solar farm can be built as a permitted use inside the residential zone subject to a “site plan review” process through the city’s Planning Board. However, he added that the Planning Board could impose rules requiring the solar farm to be screened from the public by trees, or kept away from housing by a certain number of feet. He said if the Planning Board determines the project is not permissible by the city’s zoning rules Eden Renewables can still apply for a use variance from the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
“We don’t do ‘spot zoning,’ we don’t want to change this to a different zone, but my understanding is that a structure for a utility is generally permitted in that zone, with site plan review, so that nobody’s quality of life is diminished,” DeSantis said.
As for the issue of the sheep, DeSantis said he believes the City Council can create an exception within the city ordinance, which prohibits livestock inside the city.
“We’ve made exceptions to that in the past. We have a history of being a little flexible with that. You can’t have a pig farm in Gloversville. You can’t have cattle, as a matter of fact I don’t think you can have horses, but, historically, there have been some exceptions to this ordinance that we’ve allowed,” DeSantis said.
Since it announced its intention to build the solar farm, Eden Renewables has held several open houses at the Pine Brook Golf Course to answer questions from the public. Black said one issue community members have raised is whether it would be better for the 158 acres of the former golf course to be used for new housing.
Black said the former golf course is currently owned by a conglomerate of partners called 280 South Main Ventures.
“The current owners are interested in building houses on a portion of the property as well, so we’ve moved our project away from that to facilitate future development,” he said.
If it can build the solar farm, Eden Renewables has announced that it will be selling renewable energy credits generated by the project for 90 cents on the dollar. Those credits will be marketed to Gloversville residents first.
DeSantis said the community solar concept of generating local energy that helps local citizens is one of the reasons he thinks the solar farm is a good idea.
“I’m not opposed to the project. Any rate payer in Gloversville can sign onto this and get a substantial reduction in their energy costs, so you don’t have to invest in solar panels on your house or anything, you can just sign-up and be a recipient of this,” he said.
Black said if Eden Renewables gets the site plan approval to build the solar farm, it will still need to negotiate a payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement with Fulton County.
If the project is built, Black said it will probably last between 25 and 30 years. He said by year 25 solar panels are expected to lose about 20 percent of their energy generating capacity.
“We’ll then decide to either re-power [the solar farm] with new modules that are more power dense or we’ll power down, pull up stakes and the property can be used for something else, but in the meantime the soil is regenerated, and there’s no off-gassing, no pollution, none of that crap,” he said.