Saugerties planners OK two solar projects

Could Saugerties become the solar-power center of Ulster County? The town planning board approved two solar projects at its regular meeting on February 19 and discussed a third project.

The two approved projects were presented by Paul McMenemy of Solar Generation. The first, on property on Old Kings Highway owned by the Trnka Trust, “would produce 750 kilowatts, enough to power about 75 houses,” he said. The panels would cover less than 20 percent of the property.

The power would be marketed through Central Hudson. Users could save ten to 15 percent on their bills, McMenemy said. Saugerties residents would have the first call on the available power, with marketing to other areas in the Central Hudson territory only if not all the power is taken by Saugerties residents.

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The panels would be screened by trees and grasses, and no pesticides would be used, he said.

Board member Ken Goldberg asked whether any of the property could be farmed. Board member Dan Ellsworth responded that the solar panels would protect the land from possible subdivision for housing. When the useful life of the panels ended, they could simply be pulled up and the land would revert to farmland. “These panels don’t detract from the value of farmland, they actually preserve it,” he said.

The board voted to approve the project, subject to a number of conditions. The applicants will have to provide a plan for decommissioning the solar farm when it reaches the end of its usefulness,

The second proposal, also presented by McMenemy, was for a larger solar farm on a 15.4-acre property belonging to Roderick Martin on Lauren Tice Road. Some 380 panels, designed to track the sun’s path across the sky, would provide sufficient power to supply 240 homes. The panels would be coated with light-sensitive material on both sides, increasing the amount of power the array would produce, he said.

Angela Morano, who lives on Lauren Tice Road, wanted to know how much acreage the project would cover, and whether nearby residents could hook into the system. McMeMenemy said about eight acres would be devoted to the solar project. Access to the electricity would be on a first-come, first-serve basis, with Saugerties residents having the first shot. 

“The electricity goes through Central Hudson, There is no hard line from the project to your house; it goes through Central Hudson’s lines. There’s a back-room accounting credit that goes against your bill and then you enter into a contract with Solar Generation to get a discount.”

Morano was also concerned about the possible use of pesticides to clear the land, as she heard had been done in other projects. McMenemy replied that the land was flat, so clearing it would not be a problem. Martin, the propertyowner, said he has contacted Cornell Cooperative Extension for information on low-growing plants that would keep the weeds out while requiring a minimum of mowing or weed-whacking. He has a list of some 20 wildflower species as well as grasses. The vegetation would stand about three feet high, and would die off in winter, essentially eliminating the need for cutting.

Morano wanted to know about another project, one off Churchland Lane. Goldberg said that project would not be community solar. The contractors would sell their electricity directly to Central Hudson. When the project is on line, the company will advertise heavily in Saugerties initially, McMenemy said. If Saugerties residents don’t buy the full production of the system, it will be offered to nearby communities.

“We’ll set up a booth somewhere, and we’ll have ads in the Saugerties papers,” McMenemy said. He promised the ads would be prominent, but probably not use a a full page.

People curious about the appearance of the motorized panels can have a look at them on the grounds of the Esopus town hall in Port Ewen. “They have a small section of the motorized ones [panels] there. It’s not even fenced. You can walk in, walk around it, and see what it’s going to look like.”

Goldberg asked for clarification of the procedure for purchasing electricity. “They would buy it from the owner of the panels, and then you would notify Central Hudson that they are entitled to the discount, right?” Goldberg asked. McMenemy agreed that this is correct.

The board voted to grant conditional approval for the project, subject to a notation on the map indicating the proposed landscaping, information Cornell Cooperative Extension has gathered on the soils on the property, and a decommissing plan. Ellsworth noted that it would be impossible to completely hide the panels from surrounding properties or the road, but screening should minimize the effect, “and not have it right up in your face.”

Blue Stone Solar/Geronimo Energy, which has been going over plans with the board for several months, came in to present a landscaping plan. Jenny Monson-Miller said that following an open house a number of residents and board members had said they did not favor screening along the New York State Thruway. They offered the planners alternatives, one with screening along the Thruway and the other without.

“We know there is a large commitment in this town to solar, and we would certainly like to have it promoted. I drove up and down the Thruway a few times in front of the site between the Mount Marion bridge and where Churchland Lane and Churchland Road crosses it, and we’re talking about – at Thruway speeds – about 44 seconds is the most you would be able to see that property at any given time, and that’s in the winter when the leaves are gone,” said Miller. “In the summer it would be even shorter. I think that making these people screen it, and that expense, is not really reasonable or necessary.”

On a question about fencing, Derek Hasek of Bluestone Energy said the usual practice was to leave the land open and discuss fencing with the building inspector. The board voted to accept the landscaping plan without planting along the Thruway.

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