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Bevy of residents opposes proposed solar project

Charles Pritchard
Staff writer
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Posted 4/7/22

WESTMORELAND — The room was packed shoulder to shoulder as people turned out in droves to speak their minds on a proposed solar project in the town of Westmoreland, with many residents opposed. The …

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Bevy of residents opposes proposed solar project

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WESTMORELAND — The room was packed shoulder to shoulder as people turned out in droves to speak their minds on a proposed solar project in the town of Westmoreland, with many residents opposed.

The Westmoreland Joint Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board met at its monthly meeting on Tuesday, April 5, and about 100 people filled the room and the hallway outside to hear what those representing the project had to say and what was on their minds.

Jason Dickey, environmental operations manager for TRC Companies, represented SunEast Skyline Solar, which submitted a special use permit to construct a 20 MW solar electric generating facility around the intersection of Griffin and Valley View roads within the towns of Westmoreland and Kirkland.

Dickey, the project manager, said he’s worked for SunEast for years. “They’re a renewable energy development firm specializing in commercial-grade solar,” he said. “They do a lot of work in New York, but they also do work in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic area, and they’ve got 2,000 megawatts worth of solar projects coming down the pipeline.”

Dickey gave an overview of the project, starting with the kind of solar panels being used. “We’re proposing polycrystalline solar panels, and I [bring this up] because there’s a lot of different solar panels that have been developed and put on the market for years,” he said. “They’re not created equal, and there are some bad actors, especially with the earlier designs. You won’t have to look far online until you find articles about [components] like cadmium and other pollutants. That’s not these; the polycrystalline are the newer generation of panels.”

According to Dickey, the panels are similar to those used in the residential solar market and are essentially silica glass, bound in aluminum frames with some copper wires woven into the glass for conductivity with no pollutants.

On top of this, the panels would be put on easily removable fittings in the ground, and after removed, the land could be used for farming again.

“Right now, this land is predominantly agriculture,” he said. “I’m not anti-ag, but a lot of ag is pesticides and fertilizer and routine use. And on a solar farm, there is no regular use. ...
And when this project is over, you rip those poles out of the ground, and it’s farmland again. Good farmland that you might need to lime the heck out of, but it’s been sitting fallow for 25 years.”

The project also calls for minimal tree clearing and wetland impacts and landscaping for visual screening to keep them out of sight.

As for benefits to the community, Dickey said there would be coordination with the Oneida County Industrial Development Agency board. “On average, projects of this size can generate in [tax revenue] around $100,000 a year,” Dickey said. “And over 25 years, that’s $2.5 million, with a lot of it going to the schools.”

When it was the public’s turn to speak, the first before the board was Vincent Rossi of Rossi & Rossi Attorneys at Law, representing the Fitzgerald family.

“The first and most important point I’d like to make is that we haven’t had a chance to rebut what [SunEast] has to say,” Rossi said. “They just filed their application, and we learned about it a few days ago, and we’ve been putting together materials.”

One of Rossi’s complaints was the stormwater plan submitted by SunEast, which he said was vague. “There’s such a steep gradient [in this area] that when you add impermissible land, it increases the risk of water flowing down the hill.”

But beyond that, Rossi said the most significant impact was the visual impact.

“Your solar laws specifically say that adverse visual impact is something to be concerned about and is one of the factors to be weighed,” he said. “Nobody is disputing the value of solar power, but the question is if this is a suitable place. And I don’t think I’ve seen a less suitable place because of the hill. Everyone who lives at the top of the hill is going to see a sea of [solar panels] that are bouncing the sun into their eyes. ... There is no way to screen it.”

Among other concerns was the upkeep of the chain-link fences around the properties and who would maintain it, along with the shrubbery.

Another resident brought up concerns about a decrease in real estate value, saying he believed installing the solar array could lower his home’s value by around $100,000. “It feels like we’re trading off dollars,” he said.

The Westmoreland Joint Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board will meet again on Tuesday, May 3. For more information, visit the town of Westmoreland website at: https://townwestmoreland.digitaltowpath.org:10033/content

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