Saratoga County

Malta zoning officials want financial, allowable usage study for solar project

Route 67 is seen in Malta.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Route 67 is seen in Malta.

MALTA – Zoning officials have asked an energy company seeking a zoning variance to build a community solar array project to provide them with more information.

Cipriani Energy Group of Colonie is asking to clear more than five acres of trees from privately-owned forested land at 350 Malta Ave. to build its 1.4-megawatt project. But zoning officials want to see better financial data projections and research on allowable uses for the land, and they asked that the study be prepared by someone with a financial background.

The 17-acre parcel on the border of the Milton town line is owned by Joe and Tina Toomey. It contains a single-family home.

Cipriani Energy made the request for the variance on behalf of the Toomeys, from whom the company would lease the land during the estimated 25- to 35-year solar project.

The land is presently zoned for residential homes or land conservation. Land conservation districts allow for agriculture and public utility structures, among other uses.

In reviewing a request for a zoning variance, the board has the discretion to determine whether the property could yield “a reasonable return” from its existing allowable uses based on financial data, Leah Everhart, the attorney for the Zoning Board of Appeals, said.

Considering the market for residential property, a zoning official said that the parcel “on face value” could be subdivided into 10 homes.

“See to me, that’s a reasonable return,” said board member Leo Martin, adding that he was also concerned about environmental risks the solar project might have on waterfowl from an on-site wetland.

The proposed project by Cipriani, doing business as Yellow 15 LLC, aims to provide energy for about 200 homes, a relatively small commercial project by industry standards, according to company COO Christopher Stroud, who pledged to continue to work with town officials to advance the solar project.

Zoning officials during its most recent meeting said the applicant lacked solid financial projections on allowable uses.

Board member Guy Cervera said: “I think they canceled the last meeting because we didn’t have financial information. Now we come up to this meeting, and what was brought to us is not financial information. I would want to see something that would come from some type of accounting as far as the return on the investment. What the dollar amount was when it was purchased. I want to see if it was ever put up through real estate to try to sell the property to see if they could get a return on their investment. None of that’s there.”

Board chairman Tim Larson agreed, suggesting that a financial study would behoove the land owner since the request for the variance was coming from the energy company.

But board member Steven Koebrich suggested solar arrays were a reasonable alternative use of the land. Koebrich said it was an “almost an impossible” standard for the applicant to know the exact cost to build the solar project, while also knowing the intentions of the owners to subdivide the land and build houses on it.

“I’m sure the owners would never consider doing that,” he said. “Just logically looking at this, I can’t think of a better use of this land than to put a solar farm on it.”

The board will give Cipriani Energy another opportunity to present its case during a future ZBA meeting.

“But if he’s going to present anything to us, it’s got to be prepared – I’m not saying by CPA (certified public accountant), but some type of financial person with some type of accounting background to do an analysis on this, not done by an appraiser,” Cervera said.

Located in the northwest corner of Malta, the land is directly east of Doubleday baseball fields.

Stroud says the solar field would be virtually unnoticeable from Malta Avenue.

Folks wouldn’t know the field is there unless they’re told, and the renewable energy project would align with the modernization that the Town is undergoing along Routes 9 and 67, Stroud said.

The field would sit up above a creek, and the company would use an existing gravel access road to maintain the site with three to four trips per year, mainly for mowing.

If the company is granted the variance and subsequent site plan approval from the Planning Board by the end of winter, the company hopes to begin building in the spring or summer, Stroud said.

Residents could subscribe to the project without any capital investment and save about 10% on their electricity bills, while the project generates untold tax revenue for Malta for 25 to 35 years, Stroud said.

The company started pursuing community solar project developments in upstate New York in 2019, and it’s signed agreements to begin the permitting process on a combined 25 parcels, representing about 60 megawatts – or the equivalent of about 6,000 homes to generate electricity for – throughout upstate New York by the end of 2022.

Stroud said the company endeavors to work in harmony with local communities from the beginning to the end of projects.

That initial work includes vegetative screenings and replanting evergreens, while on the back end of a project, Cipriani assures communities the solar fields will be disassembled and restored at the end of a project’s useful life, Stroud said.

Another bonus of solar array projects, according to Stroud, is that they do not place a demand for additional fire and police resources, road plowing or other forms of development that would draw on local resources.

Stroud said the land suffers from illegal dumping.

Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.

Categories: News, Saratoga County

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