A Saugerties solar farm is the first to be proposed under new zoning adopted by the town board in July. The two-megawatt solar facility proposed on October 18 for a property on Kings Highway and School Road would supply power to the electricity grid, said Anne Waling, the zoning manager at Cypress Creek Renewables of Plattsburg.
The zoning amendment allows for large-scale energy facilities subject to a special-use permit issued by the planning board in the medium density residential (MDR) district.
The company has delineated possible wetlands on the 122-acre site, of which 24 acres would house the solar panels and equipment. The plan is “very preliminary in nature, does not bear the seal of a licensed engineer, and includes very little engineering or site plan information,” noted the board’s planning consultant, Dan Shuster.
Shuster’ written comments said that the most level portion of the property with the fewest trees was selected for the development, and the plan appears to meet the requirements of the new zoning amendment.
Waling told the board that the company has worked to avoid wetlands and will provide visual buffering “because we do believe that the visual impact from certain areas – I hesitate to say significant – but it definitely will be visible.”
The developer asked about the specific plantings that the planning board would consider best for the area. “We would create a buffer probably somewhere between 25 and 50 feet, depending on the area, of mixed low-growth and evergreen plants to provide some camouflage from the roadways and affected homes.”
The developer will provide visual simulations of the site so the planners can see what it would look like when built out. Waling said she has photos of what the area looks like now.
Shuster pointed to a dilemma: “It would be one thing if you just wanted to hide it, but looking at it to the west from Kings Highway, a substantial screen to hide it would also block out what is a pretty great view of the mountains.”
Power from the solar array can be sold anywhere within the Central Hudson service area, Waling said. “But we prefer to sell it as locally as possible. As soon as our project becomes approved, we bring a team in. We go door to door and we advertise.”
As far as state subsidies go, “If you don’t want to put solar panels on your roof, you are in effect buying a share of this facility and getting the same credit as if you put it on your roof,” Shuster said.
Waling explained how the project might benefit homeowners. “You receive your electricity through the existing infrastructure you have in your house, only you do a power purchase agreement with us, and we give you a set price for a fixed term,” she said. “Even if you move, that price goes with you and that term goes with you so you don’t have any panels on your house, you don’t have an energy outlay, and the price will be below market value about 15 to 20 percent.”
Board chairman Howard Post asked whether there was a downside. Waling couldn’t find one “They are very clean, they have no emissions, they don’t make any noise except for one small inverter on the property that runs like a fan, and is used to cool the equipment during the daytime when the sun is shining,” she said.
Still to come are a grading plan, which should be done October 28, and an environmental assessment. An extended assessment is required for any site disturbance of more than ten acres.
The new zoning amendment also requires consideration of the impact of new projects on prime farmland in the agricultural zone, which includes the proposed solar array. “The open fields of this site, where the solar panels will be placed, form an attractive foreground for the views of the Catskill Mountains from Old Kings Highway,” Shuster’s notes say. “There is presently little vegetation that would screen the solar facility, and new landscaping may block the view of the mountains.” The views from a number of historic houses could also be impacted by the solar array. At the meeting, Waling identified two stone houses in the site viewshed.
The full environmental assessment form must be completed before the planning board takes further action, the planner’s notes conclude.