GLOVERSVILLE – Solar developers Eden Renewables will have to wait at least another two months before getting a determination from the city Zoning Board of Appeals for the company’s application for a “Public Utility Variance” to allow the company to build a $10 million 32-acre, 7.5-megawatt solar farm on the site of the former Pine Brook Golf Club.
The city ZBA, through its attorney Andrew J. Leja, sent Eden Renewables 11 questions aimed at gathering more information about why the ZBA should grant the company a “Public Utility Variance,” rather than holding the project to the typical, and substantially more difficult, test for a zoning use variance.
Company representatives for Eden Renewables Wednesday night told the ZBA they received the board’s questions on July 4 and haven’t had time to answer them yet, but agreed to provide written answers before the ZBA’s Aug. 4 meeting.
At the ZBA’s June 2 meeting the members of the ZBA said they needed more time to consider Eden Renewables application for a “Public Utility Variance” because they’d received the information right before Memorial Day.
Gillian Black, project development manager for Eden Renewables, said he’s not encountered the level of regulatory approval difficulty this project has endured in other places in New York state, but he’s not giving up.
“It’s unusual to have to go through so many municipal boards to try to get the same project through and approved,” Black said. “We’ve bent over backwards at the request of various city officials to show how we might incorporate additional benefits to the community.”
Eden Renewables has argued its proposal should be granted under the legal standard established in New York state case law for Public Utility Variances.
Eden has argued that New York state has mandated 6-gigawatts (GWs) of renewable energy generating capacity be installed into New York state’s electricity grid by 2025, and currently state-wide developers are about half that goal, which demonstrates the need for more solar installation. One gigawatt of electricity is the equivalent of 1,000 megawatts.
During the meeting ZBA Chairman Jeffrey Ashe, of 22 Wheaton Ave., recused himself because he lives near the solar project, and ZBA Vice Chairman David Esler, of 43 Oakland Ave., took control of the meeting. He started the meeting by saying he personally supports solar energy and believes in global warming, but as a member of the ZBA he is tasked with protecting the city’s existing zoning rules and the city’s comprehensive plan, which calls for promoting residential housing in the neighborhood of the Pine Brook Golf Club.
During Eden’s presentation Black talked about how the golf course site is near important electrical connections that make it a good place to build solar farms. Eden’s business model includes planting wildflowers, and bringing in beekeepers as a means of making the location more environmentally positive than simple grass planting.
He also brought back the idea of using goats to trim the grass rather than louder lawnmowers, although previously Eden had said the goats were off the table because of a city ordinance against them.
After the approximately hour-long presentation the application was left open until next month.
After the meeting Esler outlined what he and the other ZBA members still need to see from Eden before setting a public hearing for the ZBA’s decision to either grant or deny a regular use variance or a public utility use variance. If the setting the public hearing is decided at the ZBA’s Aug. 4 meeting that will push the final decision on the variance to Sept. 1.
“We’re information seeking right now,” Esler said. “We want to see case law for solar. I think there’s case law for wind turbines and cell towers, but I’m not sure about solar. If they don’t prove they’re a public utility, then it becomes the four-point [regular use variance] test.”
During the meeting ZBA member Greg Hitchcock, of 10 Apple St., said he supports solar energy, but he is tasked with upholding the city’s comprehensive plan.
ZBA member Ronald Sutler, of 10 Clyde St., said he needs Eden to provide case law that backs up the company’s argument that it should be treated as a public utility.