GLOVERSVILLE – Solar developers Eden Renewables is preparing to triple the size of its proposed solar farm at the site of the former Pine Brook Golf Club in order to bypass city regulations if it can’t obtain a zoning change.
The company is in the process of appealing the Common Council’s unanimous rejection of the zoning change in December.
Eden Renewables has proposed building a $10 million, 32-acre 7.5-megawatt solar farm capable of powering about 1,225 homes, but city officials have determined solar farms are not allowed in the “R1” residential zone where the former golf course is located.
In December, after holding an unprecedented three public hearings on the subject, the Common Council rejected the application to rezone the parcel for commercial development by the group of local investors who own it — 280 Main St. Ventures LLC, which includes John Antonucci, owner of the neighboring parcel at 274 S Main St., the location of Antonucci Foods.
Giovanni Maruca, the chief developer for Eden Renewables, said 280 Main St. Ventures is appealing the council’s ruling to the city Zoning Board of Appeals, and hopes to get an answer by the end of May. If the ZBA doesn’t grant the appeal, he said, Eden Renewables is prepared to scale up the project to a 20-25 megawatt solar farm, eligible to take advantage of a state law called the “Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act.”
“For anyone in the [solar farm business] it’s always better to get a decision sooner, so my preference would be to win at appeal — that would be the fastest route, and just continue on with the solar project we’ve been discussing for the last two years,” Maruca said. “We’re looking at both at the same time. We wouldn’t be pursuing these activities without the approval of [280 Main St. Ventures LLC], they’re still the landowners. Their goal is to do something with that land, and they’ve tried a number of different avenues and the city keeps shutting them down.”
New York state already had the Article 10 power plant siting law as a method of overcoming local laws when siting a power plant, but the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act of 2020 creates a faster method for renewable energy. The law created the Office of Renewable Energy Siting within the state Department of State. The new Siting Office acts as the central forum for renewable energy siting decisions, bypassing local regulatory boards.
A pamphlet explaining the new law for local governments has been published by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority [NYSERDA]. According to the pamphlet the act will help expedite renewable energy projects.
“If deemed complete, applications for a permit through the Siting Office will be acted upon within one year; projects proposed on certain previously developed commercial and industrial sites will be acted upon within six months,” reads the NYSERDA pamphlet. “If the Siting Office does not make a determination within the required timeframe, the draft permit will be deemed approved and a permit granted.”
The new local law still offers local communities ways to object to renewable projects, and includes these provisions:
• No renewable energy power plant siting application will be deemed complete without proof of consultation with the host community regarding applicable local laws.
• Local governments will be notified upon the publishing of an application for siting a project through the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act. Local governments then have 60 days to provide comments. The Siting Office is required to consider any applicable local law when making a determination.
• If local governments raise any “substantive and significant issues that require adjudication,” the Siting Office has the option to establish a date for an adjudicatory hearing, but if the Siting Office decides against doing so a public hearing will be scheduled in the host community instead.
• Local government agencies and or “community intervenors” will have access to state funding, up to $1,000 per megawatt of the proposed project, to pay for studies and experts to present information to the Siting Office in order to “ensure effective participation in the permitting process.”
• As a condition for approval, permits will include a provision requiring host community benefits.
In its pitch to the Common Council, Eden Renewables said one benefit available to households in Gloversville from the project would be approximately a 10-percent savings in electricity bills for residents who sign up to purchase the solar generated electricity.
But those solar energy subscriptions are already available to city residents through already existing solar power generation in Gloversville at the city’s former landfill, and other solar projects. The Eden Renewables project would just create additional slots for households to take advantage of savings.
Another part of Eden Renewables pitch to build the solar farm is the company’s plan to include bee hives, wildflowers, and a community garden around the solar farm. The company has said it plans to use sheep as a more environmentally friendly way of keeping the grass trimmed at the location.
During the three hearings held by the Common Council, some members of the public pushed back on the idea of the solar farm, claiming they think it would be loud and bad for the residential neighborhood. At least one of them didn’t care for the sheep idea either.
“Those sheep are disgusting,” said John Synakowski, who lives near the project. “They’re dirty and unkempt and to have them right in the middle of the city is … a whole different ball game.”
Other forms of opposition to the project were apparent when the city’s Planning Board only narrowly approved by a 3-2 vote in October an application to subdivide the 155-acre parcel of the former golf course into four parcels: a 57-acre plot in the center for the solar farm; a 2-acre parcel encompassing the former golf clubhouse; a 1.46-acre parcel to be combined with the neighboring Antonucci Foods property; and a 91-acre parcel running along the perimeter of the existing property.
The subdivision was necessary first step in order for the application to rezone part of the parcel for commercial purposes to accommodate the solar farm.
Maruca said there is likely enough space available at the 57-acre subdivision to accommodate a larger 20-25 megawatt solar farm, still keep most of the community garden concept and have space leftover for trees and additional screening to hide the farm from site. He said the key to fitting the larger farm will be the rapid pace of the advancement of solar panel technology.
He said currently the solar panel modules built by Eden Renewables have the ability to produce about 550 watts of electricity, which might not be enough to build the larger solar farm on the site right now, but since the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act process will likely take close to a year to complete, it should be more than enough time to get the solar modules up to at least 600 watts each, allowing for the bigger farm.
“There’s enough usable area in there, if we got approval, by the time that comes around the solar panels, the modules would be at like 650 watts per module, so it would easily accommodate it,” he said.
One last hang up for the solar farm project could be whether the two 69 KV transmission lines near the south side of the property have enough capacity to handle a 20-25 megawatt power farm.
“We’ll be putting in a preliminary assessment to see if there’s enough capacity. That’s a really important part for us, because if there isn’t enough capacity, we aren’t going to pursue it obviously,” he said. “We’ll probably get a sense of that in an early April time frame, but I’m pretty confident there will be enough capacity at at least one of the two 69 KV transmission circuits. If one doesn’t have enough the other one probably will.”