CLIFTON PARK -- With the recent approval of three new solar energy arrays on the western side of town, Clifton Park is nearing the energy grid's limit for solar power generation.
In less than a year, three solar farms have been approved in the town. In September a 5.3 megawatt solar array by Borrego Solar was approved for construction at 25 Ashdown Road. Solitude Solar has been given the greenlight to build a 7 MW solar array on Sugar Hill Road. The power generation figures represent the amount of electricity expected to be generated by the plants at their peak output.
The final project -- largest of the three and also being built by Borrego -- will be a 9.2 MW facility at 753 Grooms Road. All three projects were unanimously approved by the Planning Board.
All of the solar sites are slated for land that has been used for farming.
The solar companies have entered into lease agreements with the landowners to use to the properties for roughly 20 years. After that, the arrays will be removed by the companies if another lease agreement is not reached.
The panels are raised off of the ground, high enough for grass to grow. Maintenance on the panels, as well as landscaping work, will be performed two to three times a year by the solar energy firms.
During Planning Board discussion of the projects, some residents were taken aback by the speed with which the projects were being approved and expressed concern about the proliferation of the facilities.
But there is a limit to the number of such projects that can be built in Clifton Park, said town Planning Director John Scavo.
National Grid has provided maps that indicate the area where the farms are being built is served by substations that can can support a total of 22 MW of energy being poured back into the grid.
With the three approved farms, as well as the town's solar array at its former landfill, the area's substations can only support about 7 MW of additional solar power, Scavo said.
"At best, we might see one more of these," he said.
If solar companies want to bring in more arrays, they would need to pay for upgrades to the substations, making it more cost-effective for solar companies to just seek new areas in which to build facilties, Scavo said.
It is also unlikely that the solar companies would seek space for arrays on the eastern side of town, Scavo said. Representatives from Borrego Solar explained during meetings that various factors need to line up for a site to be considered, including a large area of undeveloped land near a substation that landowners are willing to lease.
The western side of town's rural nature lends itself to solar arrays, Scavo said. The more densely developed eastern section does not.
Solar arrays also don't need to be located in Clifton Park in order for residents to hook into them, Scavo said.
All three of the projects coming to town are community solar projects, which means any National Grid customer can access solar power generated by the arrays.
Community solar is meant to provide solar energy for people who want to take advantage of solar power but aren't able to install panels on their homes. In 2018, Gov. Andrew Cuomo pledged $40 million to support solar projects, with the goal of having 50 percent of the state's energy provided through renewable resources by 2025.
Scavo added that when Clifton Park reaches its cap for solar energy generation, residents will still be able to hook into arrays that might go up in neighboring areas.
"The good thing is, as Clifton Park residents, we can still participate in community solar," Scavo said.