ARKWRIGHT – A solar farm company presented proposals at Monday’s Town Board meeting that could lead to electric savings for residents. But many of those residents slammed the board for holding a meeting about a possible purchase of land for the project, saying they didn’t get enough notice.
“The town is exploring possibilities of using some of the wind power money for energy for residents,” board member Larry Ball said in introducing SolarLiberty’s Rob Gauchat.
“You do have a unique situation with the revenue stream from your wind farm,” Gauchat said, later adding, “There’s options for Arkwright because of the amount of property that’s available.”
The “community solar” vision of SolarLiberty involves installation of solar panels to generate electricity for the power grid, with the power company passing on solar credits to residents that will lower their bills.
Gauchat outlined two options. The first would involve a farm with 3,562 panels that would be owned by Arkwright and would save each household in the town approximately $495 a year. The second option would be much larger – more than 18,000 panels – and would be owned by a third party. The town would incur no costs under that scenario and would get lease payments. However, residents might not save as much money as under the first plan, and they would also get bills for solar energy use.
A suitable site for the farm would be at the intersection of Straight and Center roads, Gauchat proposed.
Town board members stressed that no final decisions on SolarLiberty’s proposals are imminent. “This was a presentation on an idea that may happen in the future,” Ball said.
“Part of the reason Larry has looked into this … is as a resident, it will benefit you the most,” said board member Roger Cardot. “We’re months, if not years away.”
Cardot said a firm decision on who would receive benefits, and how much, from the project should be made before the town bought any land. That statement brought scattered applause from the crowd of about 40.
Resident Larry Wilcox applauded SolarLiberty’s interest. “The board should be complimented because they’re trying to get the biggest bang for their buck,” he said. “This board, by looking at this project, is going to keep the money for the residents who live here, not absent landowners.”
Some spectators expressed concerns that Town Supervisor Fred “Nick” Norton called a special meeting of the board for Monday, March 4 so it could tell a realtor “it is the intention of the Town of Arkwright to bid $210,000 for a 100 acre piece of property,” as the minutes put it. The acreage could apparently be used for the solar farm.
The public notice of the meeting required by law was received by the OBSERVER on the previous Saturday, but the newspaper’s classifieds department is closed on weekends. It wound up being printed Tuesday, March 5 – the day after the meeting. Cardot recused himself from voting on the measure because he was concerned about that. But Ball and board member Dennis Stephens voted “yes” and the motion carried.
“We had to act quickly,” Norton said. “We did everything that was legal … it was sent to the newspaper but the newspaper did not print it.” That led to groans and murmured “nos” from many in the crowd.
Several spectators also used the meeting notice issue to criticize the town for its lack of a website, noting that the town could have posted the notice there, if it had one.
Norton later said that, as supervisor, he had the ability to call an emergency meeting on just 48 hours’ notice. “The property was going to be sold on a Wednesday, and I wanted to tell them not to sell the property,” he explained, trying to justify calling the situation an emergency.
Resident Tina Graziano was unimpressed. “You got the ball rolling before you even contacted the community,” she said to Norton.
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