Shepard Farm approved for solar panels

Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Graveside view: Behind the headstones, just beyond the hills, the company Borrego Solar intends to build solar arrays at the former Shepard Farm resort.

WESTERLO — The former Shepard Farm resort, a destination for vacationers in the mid-20th Century, will now be the site of something more modern — the expansive property located behind the old hotel buildings will be decked with solar panels that will make up one of the largest combined arrays in the state, the builders say.

The Westerlo planning board approved an application for the solar arrays at its Dec. 20 meeting with a 4-to-1 vote, according to planning board Chairwoman Dorothy Verch.

Planning board member Edwin “Ned” Stevens was the sole dissenting vote, she said, because the town had not yet created a Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, program so that the town can obtain revenue from solar arrays. New York State allows both residential and commercial renewable-energy systems to be exempt from property taxes worth what the systems add to the value unless a town opts out of the program, which Westerlo chose not to do.

Verch said that there was a positive reaction from the audience at the public hearing that preceded the vote.

Shepard Farm intends to lease the land to the solar company Borrego, which will operate the panels. The power is expected to go to Central Hudson Gas & Electric.

A total of 17,496 panels for the two planned arrays will be used, with a 6,998-kilowatt array located on one parcel of land, and a 2,998-kilowatt array located on another; the land will be surrounded by a six-foot-tall fence with barbed wire.

There will also be two areas for transformers, and data acquisition gear to monitor them. The southeast corner of the property was determined to be the only spot where the arrays will be visible.

At the planning board’s previous meeting on Nov. 28, the board held a public hearing for approving a subdivision of the property on Shepard Farm, which is owned by John Dolce and Steve Haaland. Dolce serves as a Rensselaerville town councilman and owns several businesses in Westerlo, and Haaland owns a construction company in Durham. The two men bought the long-abandoned property about a year ago in the hopes of restoring it to host small businesses.

The subdivision of the 190-acre property is necessary for operating the two planned arrays, as Westerlo’s solar law allows an array to cover only up to 20 acres on a parcel of land.

The board had voted, 4 to 1, in favor of dividing the land into three plots, with two 45-acre plots on the east and west ends for the arrays, and the remaining land in the middle containing the former resort buildings.

Stevens had also been the sole dissenter in this vote, saying he had not heard of property being subdivided and had not received new deeds. He also said he was concerned that property subdivided off could be abandoned and left to the town to deal with. David Albrecht, of Borrego, had said that the new deeds would not have to be filed.

Stevens asked that the subdivision be approved on the conditions that new deeds and tax-identification numbers be created for the three new land parcels, and that the property not have any further subdivisions in the next 10 years.

Both Stevens’s fellow planning board members and Albrecht objected to the 10-year moratorium, saying there are parcels that could later be used for the arrays or other business ventures; they were, however, favorable or at least neutral to issuing new deeds.

The board voted, 4 to 1, in favor of the subdivision, with Stevens being the only member objecting.

Dolce’s plans

Dolce said he thought the audience at the public hearing felt more comfortable with the project after hearing the plans for Shepard Farm “right from [his] mouth.”

He told The Enterprise that, a few months after purchasing the property, he was approached by Michael Doud, a project developer with Borrego. Doud, he said, had been looking at property adjacent to the former resort which Dolce had already bought as well, leading to the two meeting to discuss putting solar panels on the property.

“I didn’t go looking for it,” said Dolce, of the proposal to establish solar arrays. “It found me.”

He said that he would continue renovating the buildings on the property whether or not solar arrays are built, but he added that the added income would speed up that renovation. His goal is to eventually rent out the buildings to local businesses.

Dolce said so far some roofs have been repaired, “an incredible amount of trash” has been removed from the buildings, and he has added more security. He said there are three additions, two of which are more modern than the adjoining buildings, which will need to be torn down, among many other renovations — such as rewiring the buildings and testing the wells and septic system — that will need to be completed before Shepard Farm can open up again.

Dolce was not as concerned about the lack of an established PILOT, saying the town would still receive money through sales and property taxes. He added that the PILOT is not the concern of the planning board, but rather of the town council.

Dolce said that the size of the two arrays will likely mean they will not be connected to the substation and running until 2019, after which he will be paid for the rental. He expects, with this funding, he will then have the Shepard Farm ready for businesses to use.

Doud said that the next step in the process is to continue working with the utility company Central Hudson Gas & Electric to connect the arrays to the power lines and the substation on Maple Avenue Extension in Westerlo. Borrego has already made a payment to Central Hudson for this hook-up, he said.

He said that construction of the arrays could begin by the end of the year or the beginning of 2019. Borrego is also approved in neighboring town of Knox to install solar arrays on the Whipple farm.

Doud said that the 14-megawatt system will be one of the largest solar arrays built in the state. The Long Island Solar Farm, located at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and generating at most 32-megawatts, is currently the largest in the state and in the Eastern United States.

Once the project is completed, residents will be allowed to use the energy generated, said Doud. Their electric bills would likely be credited by Central Hudson, he said.

“It’s really a win-win for everyone,” he said.

Other solar projects

While the planning board has adjourned the application for solar arrays by the company Costanza Solar, said Verch, the board accepted two other applications for solar arrays in Westerlo. The Medusa Solar Farm intends to build solar arrays off of Route 351, and Westerlo NY 1 intends to build arrays where Shepard Farm will build, close to Route 358 and Route 32.

At the November planning board meeting, the company Clean Energy Collective had presented plans to build a 2-megawatt solar array on eight acres of a 46.5-acre parcel along Route 351 near the border of Rensselaerville. The company would create a community solar project that would have participants’ utility bills lowered based on the energy generated.

Verch said that the application for Costanza Solar had been adjourned due to a problem with accessibility. The company is working with the California-based solar company Cypress Creek to build arrays off of Route 401. The public hearing for the array had been tabled three times due to a lack of information.

At the November meeting, Brian Henchey, an attorney representing a neighboring property owner, had said that planned power lines and an access road would cut through his clients’ property. Neither representatives from Cypress Creek nor Costanza Solar were present at that meeting.

Joined: 11/17/2017 - 22:54

the array is off of Albany county Rt. 405.

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