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Florida can do little to stop large solar project

Florida can do little to stop large solar project

State law Article 10 allows such projects
Florida can do little to stop large solar project
Solar farm being built along Route 67 just southeast of County Route 143A in Johnstown last year.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

TOWN OF FLORIDA  -- NextEra Energy Resources has proposed a 90-megawatt solar energy project at a price exceeding $100 million using the state's power plant siting law -- Article 10 -- and there's little the town of Florida or its residents can do about it.

Article 10, was passed in 2011, allows for the siting of electricity generating facilities of greater than 25 megawatts to bypass local planning and zoning boards, although the process does allow for local officials to appoint members to a sitting committee that oversees the process.

Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort will appoint two members to the sitting committee for NextEra Energy Resources project, called the High River Energy Center. 

Town Supervisor Eric Mead said his town is now considering a 180-day temporary moratorium on large-scale solar facilities. He said the moratorium won't affect the NextEra Energy project, but could help his town better prepare for future large-scale solar projects. A public hearing on the moratorium is set for Oct. 15 at 6:30 p.m.  Florida was one of the first municipalities to place a six-month moratorium on new solar energy projects in 2016, in an effort to establish zoning rules to curb the proliferation of such facilities in the town.

Despite that moratorium, Borrego Solar Systems was able to build a 2.8 MW facility at 5813 Minaville Road consisting of 8,400 solar panels mounted on steel racks and posts.

"Unfortunately, I guess, they trumped us and they got their project through in terms of solar, because nobody likes to see it," Mead said of the Borrego solar farm. "They were not disqualified based on the rules and regulations that we have in place."

NextEra Energy Resources' High River Energy Center will be much bigger than the Borrego project. The 90 MW facility is planned for 550 acres leased from landowners near the New York State Thruway, west of the Schenectady County line, with property adjacent to Hutchinson, Severin, Mohr and Pattersonville roads. 

The solar farm is projected to create enough electricity to power 22,000 homes and reduce carbon emissions by as much as 76,000 tons per year, the equivalent of eliminating about 15,000 cars. The project is also expected to create 175 to 200 construction jobs and lead to millions in tax revenues.

Article 10 requires a number of steps meant to allow for public input into the process, including the appointment of a public information coordinator within the Department of Public Service who must assist and advise interested parties and residents in participating in the siting process.

Bryan Garner, a spokesman for NextEra Energy Resources, said his company is the largest producer of renewable energy, both solar and wind, in the world, with approximately 13,000 MW of renewable energy production in North America. He said the High River Energy Center will be the largest project NextEra has in operation in New York state.

"As the cost of solar has come down so significantly and the technology has improved so much, solar makes more and more sense for many states, and New York is one of them, especially because of the state's goals for renewable energy -- to have 50 percent of its energy produced by renewable sources by 2030," Garner said.

"This project was selected by [the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority] as one of the projects to help New York state meet its goals and will purchase all of the renewable energy of the project to help meet the state's goals. There's a couple of things produced from a solar energy project. There's the energy itself, and then there's what's called Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), and that's what NYSERDA is purchasing here." 

NYSERDA officials confirmed that the electricity generated by the High River Energy Center will be sold into the wholesale electricity market and NYSERDA will purchase the RECs, which are credits created for making clean energy. NYSERDA has committed to purchasing the RECs from all of the 26 large-scale solar projects being building New York state to help the state meet its goal of having 50 percent of the state's electricity generated by renewable sources by 2030.

Aron Ashrafioun, a spokesman for NYSERDA, said the weighted average price for last year’s awards was $21.71 per REC, but "for competitive reasons the individual project bid prices are not released."

Garner said the next step for NextEra Energy Resources is to produce a "primary scoping document" to reveal more of the details of the project and to determine the scope of the different environmental studies required by New York state for the project.

Garner said residents interested in providing public comments about the project can do so on the highriverenergycenter.com website, which has a tab listing all of the details of the Article 10 process and how to provide public comment, as well as information about how to receive updates on the project.

Mead said he knows there are people in his town who don't like the idea of a major solar project disturbing the aesthetics of the community, but he doubts there is anything that can be done to stop it.

"It's what's going on today," Mead said. "If a dairy farmer is going to get $1,000 an acre off of his property for solar when he's only going to get $50 an acre for making a bail of hay, what are you going to do?"

Garner said his company does not reveal the amount of money paid for solar leases to private landowners.

Mead said whatever the amount is, it's enough to encourage a lot of solar projects in Montgomery County and in his town. 
"I've had the opportunity presented to me myself to have solar put on my property, and I've rejected it," he said. "I refuse to do it, but I can't begrudge any other property owner for entertaining it and wanting to do it, because I understand what they are going through."

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