Several months ago, after a six month moratorium, the Lloyd Town Board passed a local law to govern solar farms in the town. The law allows these farms in commercial and residential areas in town provided developers have a minimum of 10 acres along with ensuring there is proper buffering, screening and drainage on the site.
After the law passed Cypress Creek Renewables, represented by Anne Waling, presented a proposal for a 2 mega-watt solar farm, known as Wingate Solar, on 20 acres off of Perkinsville Road that the developer is leasing from a local property owner. The developer is seeking to construct an array of solar panels that will cover nearly 5 acres of this leased land.
The Planning Board is awaiting comments from the Highland Fire Chief on the layout of the proposed project and his review of the developer’s emergency action plan. In addition, the Highway Superintendent will be looking at the location of the driveway off of Perkinsville Road in terms of safety and site distances.
The Planning Board will also have a decommissioning plan written onto the approved site plan to ensure that the developer properly handles the removal of the panels if they decide to cease operation at some point in the future.
An access entrance to the property off of Route 9W will need a permit from the Department of Transportation that shows this is a safe location and has the proper grade and culverts.
The Department of Environmental Conservation still has to determine if there is an endangered bat species on the property, which would mean that no clearing of the site would be allowed during the summer months.
The Planning Board is pushing to have the developer add 12 to 14 foot evergreen trees, rather than constructing berms, as a way to thicken the screening of the project from several nearby residences. The board also favors the installation of green privacy slats in any chain-link fencing. They are working to keep the old trees at the property line and any clearing of trees to make way for the project would start 75 feet in from this border line before any cuts are made. The board is also making calculations on the level of glare that will come off of the panels.
The Planning Board wants the developer to bury above ground overhead wires for visual reasons. The developer, however, pointed out that most of the trees are 60 feet in height, with some in the center of the property reaching 80 feet, which would shield any above ground wires from the neighbors since the poles are 40 feet in height. The poles are widely spaced, with about 15 poles needed to reach out to Route 9W. The developer said keeping the wires above ground places them over the wetlands and would not require a DEC permit if they were to be put underground. It appears at this point that the Planning Board will insist that Cypress Creek bury at least 9 of the 15 poles, with 6 above ground poles running out to Route 9W.
The developer provided maps to show the distances from the proposed project to nearby homes and also where the clear-cutting would take place to make way to the panels. There will be 25 feet of buffering planted along Perkinsville Road where the entrance to the site is located.
One neighbor, who lives close to the proposed project, told the board that he recently met Mrs. Demasi, the owner of the parcel. He told her that many of the neighbors are not happy about having this project so close to their homes. She said she was also unhappy about it, as she wanted to keep one acre of it to construct a home. She said her husband did not want to build there because he did not want to look out across acres of solar panels. She said the project could not be moved closer to Route 9W because there are two homes that would be impacted visually, one her sister’s, and they would also have to deal with a road that would be put in that area. The record shows that when the Demasi’s were asked by the Planning Board if they would permit Cypress Creek to move the project closer to Rte. 9W and away from the residences, they refused. The total acreage of the property is actually 64 acres but the owners are only leasing 20 acres to Cypress Creek.
To counter criticism of the board, Planning Board chairman Dave Plavchak said “I do think we are looking out for the residents and we are trying to work with both sides to make this beneficial both to the residents of the town and to the applicant.”
Board member Fred Pizzuto asked how this project would benefit the town if it were approved. Planning Department Director Dave Barton said, “That is beyond our scope to review but there is a benefit to people who decide to opt in to solar because of this in the town.”
Waling said residents of Lloyd could purchase electricity from them at a reduced rate of up to 15 percent off of regular electricity prices. In addition, the developer is in negotiations with the town for a payment in lieu of taxes agreement [PILOT]. Calculations are usually done on a per megawatt basis, typically between $4,000 to $7,000 per megawatt per year, but a final financial agreement has not yet been completed. The developer estimated the yearly town tax could be $10,000 and over the life of the project approximately $250,000. Additional negotiations would take place on the amounts to be paid in school and county taxes.
The Planning Board pointed out that after the solar farm is erected the code does not allow any houses to be built on the parcel, as the developer has used up their allotment of the land.
Residents questioned whether their property values would be negatively affected, a point that the Planning Board could not definitively answer.
“You don’t know either way, but the market could continuously go up because you are not putting another subdivision in,” Plavchak said. “I think the belief in what we’ve seen in other places, it hasn’t affected it negatively.” He acknowledged that these types of projects are quite new and there is not enough statistical data yet to make a determination on the impact solar farms have on home values.
Supervisor Paul Hansut said the Assessor’s Office could do a study on the impact these facilities have on properties located in close proximity. He said when the Town Board approved the new solar law for the code “I don’t think we grasped the residential portion of it, so she [assessor] is going to do a review of the whole town to see what other properties in the town could fit into the solar farms.” He informed the public that although there have been preliminary discussions of a PILOT agreement with Cypress Creek, the project has not been approved.
“By no means I don’t want anybody to think the town’s already made a deal with them and will move forward,” he said. “There is a time period of the notice of intent [for PILOT] under law that we have to follow and that is why we’re [also] going to have a meeting with the school board.”
By Mark Reynolds