CLIFTON PARK -- Planning Board members told the developer of a proposed 27-acre solar farm that, if approved, they wanted it to be as unobtrusive as possible. The board met Tuesday to give the proposal an initial review, despite a lack of clarity over whether the town’s National Grid substation has the capacity to handle another solar farm.
The proposed 5-megawatt solar farm would be located on a large parcel of land at 94 Appleton Road that was previously used for agriculture.
The project applicant is Borrego Solar, a company that has already received approval for three similarly sized solar farms in town: one at 267 Sugar Hill Road, which is operating; one at 753 Grooms Road; and another one at 25 Ashdown Road.
The proposed Appleton Road farm, according to documents submitted to the Planning Department, would be built on 27.7 acres, surrounded by a 7-foot-high fence on all sides. There would be about 20,000 solar panels integrated into the site, which is roughly the same number solar panels that will exist on all of the other solar farms in town.
If built, this would be the sixth solar farm in town.
Lindsey McEntire, of Borrego Solar, said during the meeting that this project is very similar to all other Borrego projects that have been approved by the town. She added the Appleton Road site was specifically picked due to its secluded nature.
“This site on Appleton Road was selected by Borrego in part because it’s so robustly screened from neighboring property,” she said.
While the board discussed the project from a conceptual standpoint, no action was taken because it's not yet known if National Grid's substation in town could handle the extra electricity being entered into the area’s power grid.
National Grid has provided maps that indicate the area where the farms are being built is served by a substation that can support a total of about 22 megawatts of energy being entered into the system.
Planning Board Chairman Rocky Ferraro Ferraro said that he had been under the impression that the town was at capacity for the number of solar farms it can hold, but McEntire said that, after discussions with National Grid and a capacity analysis of the substation, the Appleton Road project could in fact be integrated into the town’s solar farm capacity.
McEntire said she would provide the Planning Board with official confirmation from National Grid prior to moving forward.
Typically, if solar companies want to bring in more arrays than town substations can hold, municipalities likely would need to pay for upgrades to the substation themselves or not approve any more such projects.
Planning Board members also commented on the importance of buffers. Ferraro said he would like to see even more of a buffer, beyond that of natural forestry, to provide neighboring property owners with enough of a shield.
Three sides of the site are bordered by state Department of Environmental Conservation wetlands. The fourth, the southern side, is directly bordered by neighboring property.
“I have concerns about the visual impact on the southern side, and making sure it is protected,” Ferraro said, adding that the already existing border on the southern side was too narrow and not sufficient.
All of the projects coming to Clifton Park are “community solar” projects, which means any National Grid customer can access solar power generated by the arrays.
The community solar concept is designed to allow people to access sustainable energy but aren't able to install panels on their own properties. 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.