Neighbors of a proposed 2-megawatt solar field at a Skidmore College property on Denton Road in Greenfield want town officials to put the brakes on it and develop a policy on solar installations.
Skidmore has proposed erecting 6,950 solar panels on eight acres behind its baseball fields. The solar array likely would be the largest in the area, and Skidmore would sell most of the estimated 2.6 million kilowatt hours per year generated back to the power grid.
The town’s zoning ordinance omits any mention of solar photovoltaic arrays, and neighbors of the Skidmore baseball and polo fields want the Town Board to put a temporary moratorium on solar fields.
“Don’t ban it altogether, but let’s look and find out what parts of town it needs to be in,” said Fred McNeary Jr., CEO and part owner of Prestwick Chase retirement community next to the Skidmore property on Denton Road.
Daniel Tuczinski, an attorney hired by Thomas Mina, who owns a horse breeding farm on Denton Road, presented a suggested draft of a moratorium to the Town Board at its agenda meeting Thursday night. The board agreed to add the issue to its agenda for discussion at the next meeting, which will be held at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
“Certainly we’ll take it under consideration,” said Supervisor Richard Rowland. However, “For someone to drop in and ask us to grant a moratorium off-handedly, I think that’s very presumptive.”
A Skidmore official said it seems neighbors want to stop the college’s project.
“The neighbor’s request to the town to issue a moratorium strikes us as an attempt to sidestep a process on which the Greenfield Planning Board already has embarked,” Michael Hall, director of financial planning and budgeting, said in a statement. “The Planning Board is doing exactly the kind of examination of solar that this request calls for.”
The college wants to construct the solar field to help the environment and be an example to its students, Hall said.
“We want to reduce our carbon footprint, and we want to show our students that sustainability is not just rhetoric.” Skidmore currently uses geothermal heating and cooling for 40 percent of the college’s needs, he said.
On the Denton Road site, Skidmore seeks to establish a planned unit development, a zoning designation that allows the owner and the town to create specialized zoning to accommodate a use that otherwise would not be allowed.
Skidmore officials have told the town that the college might lose a state NY-Sun grant if the solar panels are not active by November, but Rowland said the Planning Board needs time to adequately review the project.
“It’s an energetic timeline that I’m not sure is feasible,” he said. “[The project] has an impact and it needs to be looked at.”
After the Planning Board finishes its review, it will make a recommendation to the Town Board, which gives final approval. The Planning Board has not yet determined whether the proposal has the potential to significantly impact the environment; if it does, Skidmore would have to go through an extensive environmental review process.
Some neighbors believe the project will affect the environment. They question whether any of the site is protected wetlands and whether stormwater runoff from the panels would heat up Putnam Brook, a trout stream that needs to be cold for trout to spawn.
And Mina said he regularly sees deer, turkey, geese and foxes in the field where the panels are proposed.
“It’s all bucolic country area, and I think the requested placement of these solar panels is a little askew,” he said.
The college originally proposed locating the panels near the Prestwick Chase retirement community property line, but moved them east away from Prestwick and the Mina property to behind the baseball fields on the 120-acre parcel.
The fact that Skidmore will sell the energy back to the power company is a sticking point with Mina, who notes that the college pays no taxes on its properties and would use a taxpayer-funded grant to generate money for itself.
Stewart’s Shops also is constructing a large solar array in Greenfield, a 600-kilowatt rooftop solar field at the company’s manufacturing and distribution center on Route 9N.
That project needed only building permits rather than a complete planning process like the Skidmore site because the panels are on the roof.
But passing a moratorium might affect the Stewart’s project and homeowners who want to install solar panels, Rowland said.
“If Joe Homeowner wants to put a solar panel on his roof to heat his pool, is that going to affect him?”