Duanesburg adopts solar moratorium after already approving big projects 

The Enterprise — Michael Koff 

Lynne Bruning of Duanesburg points to land adjoining her family’s property, where solar arrays will be built on 65 acres.

DUANESBURG — On Thursday night, the Duanesburg Town Board enacted a moratorium on major solar installations, excluding recently approved projects, while some residents complained they had requested a moratorium before large arrays were okayed.

Lynne Bruning and her mother, Susan Biggs, have brought an Article 78 proceeding, seeking to annul the Duanesburg Planning Board’s September site-plan approval of and special-use permit for two solar projects. Eden Renewables plans to install Oak Hill Solar 1 and Oak Hill Solar 2 on about 65 acres next to their Duanesburg Road home. 

Bruning and her mother have a connection to their land that dates back generations. 

Also on Thursday, the town board unanimously approved PILOTs, or payments in lieu of taxes, for the two Oak Hill projects 

[Related: Towns can choose the effect solar farms will have on property taxes

Giovvanni Maruca, chief development officer of Eden Renewables, said this week that his company tries to engage with residents in any town where Eden launches a project. The company holds an open house, sends out mailings — in the case of Oak Hill, almost 3,000 mailings — puts up posters, and does some Facebook advertising.

An Article 78 proceeding is typically brought by a citizen, challenging in court a government’s decision or action. In their petition, which is also against solar company Eden Renewables and landowner Richard B. Murray, Biggs and Bruning argue that the planning board failed to follow the regulations of the town’s own zoning ordinance and solar-energy facilities law.

They argue that the planning board should have complied with substantive procedural requirements and should have issued written findings on a number of concerns including adequacy of: traffic access and circulation, including access for emergency vehicles; plans for stormwater runoff and drainage; and trees and other landscaping features. 

The mother and daughter’s concerns, according to the Article 78, include the impact of “tens of thousands of solar panels” on their view and on the value of their home. They also argue that the required fencing surrounding the two projects will limit the ability of wildlife to pass through freely. 

Several residents in the gallery at last Thursday’s meeting told the town board that it should be more transparent with residents and allow them more input into proposed projects. 

The local law establishing the six-month moratorium states that its purpose is “to give the Town Board sufficient time to evaluate the existing law and to make changes to that law if warranted.”

In neighboring Albany County, the Westerlo Town Board similarly adopted a commercial-solar moratorium in August after large projects had already been approved, raising concerns with some residents.

In Duanesburg, in addition to the two Eden Renewable projects, two other commercial solar farms have been approved in the past, but only one was actually built, according to building inspector and code enforcement officer Dale Warner. One proposed by a solar company called RER was approved a couple of years ago but never constructed, and its permit expired, Warner said. The other, by Onyx Solar, was approved and built on Alexander Road a couple of years ago; Warner said he believes it is smaller than Oak Hill.

Bruning on Jan. 9 read for the Duanesburg board a prepared statement from her mother, Biggs, which included the suggestion that notification policies should follow the example of Duanesburg’s own 2001 law on telecommunications towers and require developers to place a placard at proposed sites when the application is submitted. 

Biggs’s letter also asked the town to post these projects’ State Environmental Quality Review Act applications on the town’s website, “so that the entire community is aware of any potential DEC violations for site disturbance,” she wrote, referencing the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

Bruning read aloud her own letter to the board as well, stating that on Sept. 19, 2019 the resolution regarding Oak Hill Solar 1 and 2 was “read aloud, edited, and approved at one meeting” and that “the residents were not provided an opportunity to read the document prior to approval.” 

On Nov. 14, 2019, Bruning continued, the board announced the proposed six-month moratorium, and residents were informed that all approved projects, including Oak Hill, were excluded. “There was no discussion. There were no options,” she said, reading from her letter. 

“Your actions were an insult to the residents that will be forced to view 65 acres of solar panels for the next 30 years,” Bruning continued. She once again asked the board to include the Oak Hill projects in the moratorium, as did several residents who were present at last Thursday’s meeting. 

After residents spoke on Jan. 9, the town board voted unanimously to adopt the moratorium as proposed, without any discussion.  

“We discussed it in the past, so we felt as a board we were comfortable with the resolutions,” Duanesburg Supervisor Roger Tidball told The Enterprise after the meeting. 

The moratorium was first introduced at a meeting Dec. 12 that included a “duly noticed public hearing,” which was continued to Jan. 9, the local law says. 

Bruning told The Enterprise that some residents did suggest at an earlier meeting that the moratorium should be longer than six months. She said there was never any discussion, though, of whether approved projects should be included. “It was never an option,” she said.



— Photo from Eden Renewables
The fencing around the Oak Hill solar projects that Eden Renewables will build in Duanesburg will be wooden-post fencing with wire squares, the same kind used at many orchards and farms, according to the company; it is meant to keep deer out but allow for the passage of smaller animals beneath.


Citizens’ concerns

A woman from Schoharie told the Duanesburg Town Board, “We have the same problem.” She said that she built her house on 20 acres, positioning the windows to look onto the best views, and that then “somebody decided to put a 42-acre solar farm right in front of us.” She added, “We’re all losing our views.” 

Resident Jane Weyers of Knight Road in Duanesburg told the board she supports “the moratorium and strengthening our laws.” She said, “Right now, I feel the town is not protected sufficiently in the case that the solar company abandons the project.”

Josh Barnes said at the Jan. 9 meeting that he thought the moratorium should be for a year, rather than six months, “I do support landowner rights,” he said, “but not these big companies that come in with government support and ruin these areas.” 

Supervisor Tidball told The Enterprise that he plans to start holding public meetings with “groups like Miss Bruning’s,” perhaps in early February, to look over documents “line by line,” to get their input. Bruning said this week that she has not yet heard from any town officials about those meetings. 

Meanwhile, Bruning has undertaken her own initiative to educate residents about solar. She has organized an event called “Sensible Solar Summit,” which will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 22, from 4 to 8 p.m. “I don’t believe in complaining about something unless you’re willing to step up and fix it,” she said. 

The summit will feature speakers invited by Bruning, experts with whom she spoke while doing an intensive self-education on solar. The speakers include representatives of the Capital District Regional Planning Commission and the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center of the University at Albany. The forum will be held at Christ Episcopal Church at 132 Duanesburg Churches Road. 

Bruning told The Enterprise that she hopes the summit will give people “more of a neutral environment to come together and say, ‘Solar’s OK,’ ‘Solar’s not OK,’ or ‘Solar’s OK under these conditions.’” 

She herself is on the fence about solar, she said. “I think there’s a time and place for it. I prefer that it be built on brownfields, industrial areas, things of that nature.”

Bruning posts information about the summit and on proposals before the town as well as any newspaper articles about Duanesburg on a website she created called DuanesburgNeighbors.com.

The board ended its meeting with a closed session “for the purpose of discussing litigation,” according to the agenda. The state’s Open Meetings Law allows an elected board to meet in private for “discussions regarding proposed, pending or current litigation.” The agenda did not specify if the discussion was about the Article 78 proceeding filed by Bruning and Biggs.


Eden responds

Eden’s Maruca told The Enterprise this week that his company’s projects do have decommissioning funds, of about $210,000 per project — a total of $420,000 for Oak Hill — in the form of irrevocable letters of credit. 

When asked about Bruning’s concerns over stormwater runoff, Maruca said that is a reasonable question, and the project has involved going over with the Department of Environmental Conservation all of that agency’s hydrology studies and complying with all its regulations. There is a small portion of the Oak Hill property where some water could potentially get onto the northwestern part of Bruning’s land, he said, adding that, while the solar panels are impervious, water drips off them gently onto grass. The land, he said, is “a gentle slope, not like sheer or anything.”

With regard to wildlife passage, Maruca said the project will put up fencing that is used by many orchards and farmers to keep out deer, but it does allow the passage of smaller animals beneath. It is wood-post fencing, he said, with wire squares about four inches wide. “You can see right through it,” he said. 

Finally, to Bruning’s claim that the project parcels have no landscaping or trees whatsoever, and that any screening is from vegetation on surrounding lands, Maruca said, “That is not entirely correct.”

On the west and south boundaries, he said, there is a wide stand of trees — a “couple 100 feet wide at least” — on property belonging to the same landowner, Murray, from whom Eden will lease the solar-farm sites. On the north side, he said, next to the solar-farm parcels are 200 acres of land also owned by Murray, with trees further away on his land. On the east side — the side facing Bruning’s property — there are some trees on Murray’s land, but Maruca acknowledged that most of the screening on that side is on Bruning’s land. 

Maruca said the solar company has committed, on the east side, next to Bruning’s property, to planting another 1,600 feet of screening, which would consist of single evergreens placed in a zigzag pattern, far enough apart to allow them to grow, over the length of 1,600 feet. 



Bruning and her mother have a long-standing and deep connection to their land. Bruning is the fifth generation on the land, she said. 

She designs clothing for blind people with wearable technology that alerts them to nearby obstacles and thus increases independence. For years, her work has taken her around the world, throughout much of the year, as a speaker. She has a home in Colorado. 

Bruning started returning to Duanesburg more and more, she said, when her father fell ill a few years ago. Since his death, she has been helping her mother take care of the house and farm. Years ago, it was a dairy farm and then, through the 1940s, a hay-and-crop farm. Farming stopped in the 1950s, she said. 

No matter where in the world she was, Bruning said, the farm in Duanesburg was always “such an anchor … to have grown up in the house where my mother’s mother taught me how to sew and I would sleep under her mother’s quilt.” 

The traditions of craft and of stewardship of the land is deep in her, Bruning said.

“Having a permanent anchor always allowed me to go out into the world knowing that I always had this, and all of the family is buried in Grove Cemetery. Right now,” she said, talking to The Enterprise by phone, “I’m looking out at the tree that my great-grandfather four generations back planted in the mid-1800s.” 

She hopes, with her work trying to illuminate what is happening with solar locally, to “help somebody else, to make sure some other 84-year-old recent widow doesn’t receive a Xeroxed letter seven days before a public hearing.” 

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