Lee Planning Board gives preliminary OK for solar farm

Published Dec 7, 2017 at 4:07pm

TOWN OF LEE — Construction of the town’s first commercial solar farm venture is expected to begin in the spring, following the Lee Planning Board’s contingent approval of the long-discussed project.

“Merry Christmas,” board member Edward Davis told project representatives Tuesday night after the board voted to approve the plan, contingent on completing performance bond insurance details with the town attorney that would be prior to getting a building permit.

A surety performance bond of $150,000 to cover decommissioning of the solar farm based on an estimated 30-year service life is being discussed, according to a Nov. 30 letter to the board from consulting engineer C. Jack Dodson, who reviewed the project for the town. Project representatives are “a conversation away from finalizing it,” High Peaks Solar company President and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Bailey told the board regarding discussions with town attorney David Rapke.

High Peaks Solar, of Wynantskill, plans to install a 2-megawatt solar photovoltaic distribution generation system on less than 15 acres of an overall 80-acre parcel at 4834 Rome-Taberg Road/Route 69. Solar panels would generate electricity for purchase by the public, with energy credits on utility company electric bills. The company would lease the site from property owners Ernest and Doris Portner.

Bailey said he anticipates the project will start in the spring. Engineer Tim Hogan, who is working on site plans for High Peaks Solar, said a town building permit would be sought after the performance bond is finalized.

The project “looks good” overall, Planning Board Chairman L. James Jones said after the board’s contingent approval. High Peaks Solar also needs to pay a site plan review fee to the town at a rate of $3 per every $1,000 in construction costs, Jones noted; an overall construction cost estimate is needed from the company. The payment would be arranged with Rapke along with final performance bond details, Jones added.

Company representatives had appeared before the board a year ago to initiate the site plan review. That followed an October 2016 approval of a special use permit by the town Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).

The board on Tuesday reviewed several project steps presented by Hogan in relation to points raised in Dodson’s review. Among them were noise considerations; fencing height plus related signage and privacy screening; and emergency plans for fire department access if needed.

The project would involve some noise during construction but “only for a short term,” said Hogan. Otherwise, there should be only “birds, deer, rabbits, squirrels” around the area, and the solar-panel farm should involve “no humming of any sort” and should not bother anyone, he commented.

A 5-foot-high fence would be around the site with a canvas screen, plus warning signs every 100 feet around the perimeter, said Hogan. It is in a wooded area off Rome-Taberg Road/Route 69 and would not be visible from the road, Davis observed.

Other than completing the insurance/performance bond details, “everything else we’ve requested, you’ve done,” Davis commented to Bailey and Hogan.

Jones also cited the need for a “SEQR” process, referring to State Environmental Quality Review Act requirements. He and the board then filled out environmental impact documents, with input from Bailey and Hogan, indicating no significant adverse impacts.

The Town Board on Nov. 14 conditionally approved a performance bond for the project that was to be based on a review by Dodson and Rapke.