April 8, 2017
New York

900-acre solar farm eyed in Canajoharie, Minden

By MORGAN FRISCH, Recorder News Staff | The Recorder | Apr 7, 2017 | www.recordernews.com

A 900-acre, estimated $200 million solar project has been proposed for the towns of Canajoharie and Minden. If approved, this would be the largest solar facility in the state.

The developer Community Energy Solar (CES) has titled the project “Mohawk Solar.” According to the company’s Public Involvement Program Plan (PIP), the 90-megawatt facility would be designed in a patchwork of smaller arrays with connected underground wiring. The project began developing in 2015.

The project proposal states the location, which is on the border of Canajoharie and Minden, was picked based on finding a transmission line with existing capacity so the power from the project may be added to the utility system without prohibitive cost. The point of interconnection was selected at the St. Johnsville-Marshville transmission line.

Jay Carlis, executive vice president of origination for Community Energy Solar, said the PIP was filed March 31 and is the first stage of the permit process. He estimated the project would have more than 300,000 solar panels, each three by five feet in size. Carlis said the area would be fenced in and have vegetative buffering with various types of evergreen plants. He said the project wouldn’t be visible unless someone were standing right next to it.

Approximately 10 landowners are leasing their property. According to the project website, the lease allows for 30 years of operation with the option to extend for an additional 10 years. Each lease will come with a decommissioning plan and all documents will be provided to the towns of Minden and Canajoharie.

However, the project will not go through the typical local approval process. Mohawk Solar is the first solar project to ever file under Article 10 of the state Public Service Law, according to the project website. The law, which was enacted in 2011, requires new, repowered or modified electric generation facilities 25 megawatts and larger to go under review and approval by the Board of Electric Generation Siting and the Environment (siting board). The county or local municipalities will not have a say in the permitting process.

The project is expected to generate enough energy to power more than 20,000 homes.

County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said he heard about this project within the last week or so.

“From what I can understand, the size of the project could potentially be a controversial issue and I haven’t had any correspondence with any of the developers or frankly even talked to anybody locally in the town yet,” Ossenfort said. “For me, I just want to get more information about it before I formulate an opinion.”

Ossenfort said the potential for a project like this was the exact reason the county approved a fair payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program for solar facilities, so the county would “not be left out on the tax side of things.”

In October, the county legislature approved a local law establishing a PILOT schedule for solar and wind energy systems. The local law seeks to capture tax revenue from solar developments, rather than the county not acting on a state real property tax law that allows some alternative energy facilities to be exempt from general municipal and school district taxes for 15 years.

“Right now, I’m happy that was done, and over the next couple weeks I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more about the project,” Ossenfort said. “Until I know a whole lot more about this I’m going to reserve any opinions either for or against it.”

Montgomery County Industrial Development Agency Director Ken Rose said the department knows the project has been proposed, but they don’t know much about it.

“It’s kind of unfortunate that there is a law out there out there such as this where it really takes a lot of the control in siting these in a manner which is consistent with the town’s plans,” Rose said. “It really takes that out of their hands and that’s kind of unfortunate.”

Town of Minden Supervisor Cheryl Reese said although this falls under Article 10, she is hopeful there will be an open relationship between the local planning boards and developers.

“To get local input as to how it’s going to affect our communities,” Reese said.

Town of Canajoharie Supervisor Herbert Allen could not be reached for comment Friday.

To try and provide an open exchange with the public, the siting board requires all applicants to file a PIP to the state Department of Public Services. The siting board has five permanent members. Two ad hoc members will be appointed to include a local voice in the proceeding based on the individual project. A public information coordinator will also be established to assist and advise the public.

According to the project website, the Article 10 process is expected to take about two years to complete. This means the project could break ground in early 2019 if it goes through the approval process. The total construction time from start to finish is eight to 10 months, weather depending.

The timing of project construction and finance is dependent on securing contracts for the sale of power and renewable attributes from the project along with the completion of all approvals.

Carlis said such a large project job could bring a significant amount of local construction and jobs creation for local electricians and other laborers. He said there will also be increased tax revenues to the local community and would be significantly more than what the municipalities are receiving from the land that is now being used agriculturally.

“Community Energy has been developing renewable energy projects for 15 years, community involvement is key aspect of our development process,” he said. “It’s important to build these projects so that they fit in and work with the local community. Even before beginning the Article 10 process, we had already had meetings with some of the local officials in Canajoharie, Minden and in Montgomery County, so that they are aware of the plans and so that they were aware that we were beginning this Article 10 process.

“We will have local meetings and there will be plenty of opportunities for the local community to provide feedback to look at plans and at what we are intending to build and where we are going to build it.”

URL to article:  https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2017/04/08/900-acre-solar-farm-eyed-in-canajoharie-minden/