COLONIE — A large solar farm is proposed in Pine Bush habitat off Curry Road in western Colonie, near the Rotterdam border.
The sketch plans submitted by Environmental Design Partnership of Clifton Park on behalf of Eden Renewables of Troy will go before the town Planning Board on Tuesday for review.
The proposal is for technically two separate facilities on two adjacent sites totaling about 70 acres between Curry and Kings roads. About 50 acres would be enclosed within a single fence, and solar panels would cover about 40 acres within the fence.
Maximum height would be 20 feet. The driveway to the site would run off Curry Road, and the solar farm would connect to the power grid on Curry Road.
Environmental Design Partnership said a biodiversity plan will be developed to protect the Pine Bush habitat there — a portion of the site that would not be developed is known to be home to the rare Karner Blue butterfly.
Two Pine Bush organizations have divergent views on the proposed farm.
The Pine Bush Preserve Commission is encouraged by the developer reaching out to discuss protecting and preserving the habitat, while Save The Pine Bush said the unique ecosystem can’t afford to lose additional acreage while so many nearby sites could host solar panels without impacting a fragile ecosystem.
Pine Bush Commission conservation director Neil Gifford said the proposal is being handled well so far.
“The applicant has been moving with this project doing all the right things,” he said. “They came to the commission months ago.”
The land is mostly open and has been used for row crops, most recently corn, Gifford said. There’s also an airstrip there, currently used mostly for model planes.
The commission has been interested in acquiring it for decades but the price was out of reach, he added. “This is a really high-priority property for the commission,” he said.
Absent acquisition, if the scenario being discussed by EDP is codified in a formal proposal it would be a good resolution, he said.
EDP is talking about planting the wild lupine that Karner Blues feed on, Gifford said, and maintaining the site as a successional northern sandplain grassland, one of the four types of terrain in the Pine Bush.
The panels themselves would be away from the lupine and might actually help the butterflies, he added: They seem to prefer intermittent shade. Elsewhere in Colonie, off Apollo Drive, the Karner Blue population actually shrank in an area that was cleared of invasive trees and left without shade, Gifford said.
Save The Pine Bush said via email that the plan was wrong for the site.
“While Save the Pine Bush supports increased renewable energy production, locating a solar facility on Curry Road is inappropriate. These lands have been designated by the Albany Pine Bush Commission as needing full protection due to currently supporting a Karner blue butterfly population.
“Since 2010, over 250 acres have been lost in Pine Bush due to development; we can’t afford to lose additional acres. Nearby, there are hundreds of acres of parking lots and commercial rooftops that could be used for large-scale solar installations,” it said.
“Each year, we lose a little more of the Albany Pine Bush to development. But we don’t have to choose between renewable energy and letting our children experience the Karner Blue Butterfly.”
Gifford said the commission cannot regulate parts of the Pine Bush habitat that are not within the 3,350-acre Albany Pine Bush Preserve. Three parcels of the preserve adjoin the proposed solar farm site, but the site itself is not part of the preserve.
On non-preserve land, the commission acts as a resource for developers and municipalities. It does not typically advocate for or against a proposal, except in major circumstances such as the city of Albany trying to expand its landfill.
“Our job is to provide them with as much detail as possible,” Gifford said.