Approval of 4.4-megawatt solar farm on Thompsons Lake Road raises neighbors’ concerns

— From RIC Energy

This sightline review commissioned by RIC Energy and conducted by the engineering firm Wendel WD shows the location of the solar project along Thompsons Lake Road, in Knox, and the visibility of the project from 41 Old Stage Road.

KNOX — A 4.4 megawatt solar farm is likely coming to Thompsons Lake Road in Knox, and some nearby residents are worried about the value of their property once it’s here, as well as the impact the project might have on a resident with cerebral palsy.

The project, overseen by RIC Energy, was conditionally approved by the Knox planning board at its Jan. 14 meeting by a vote of 5 to 2. A final vote will be held on Thursday, Jan. 21.

“In order for the conditional approval to be finalized,” Thomas Wolfe, chairman of the Knox Planning Board, told The Enterprise this week, “[the state environmental quality review] and the terms of conditional approval must be finalized. That is the purpose of this Thursday’s meeting.”

The 22-acre project will require approximately three months of construction, beginning in May, and it will involve the removal of more than 18 acres of trees and “limited excavation to install the mounting system,” according to documents from the developer.

The planning board found that there would be no significant adverse impacts on land, water quality, community character, and soil erosion, among other dimensions. 

Al Gaige, of Whipple Road — the project is 60 feet from his property line — is worried about how the construction work will affect the health of his 21-year-old daughter, Alyssa, who has cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects movement.

“She has a much harder time doing things than you or I would,” Gaige told The Enterprise this week. “I don’t know exactly how things with this project might affect her, but it’s a concern.”

Gaige said he reached out to Wolfe and Knox Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis, whom he described as a friend, and was told to contact the solar company’s project manager, which he had yet to do when he spoke about it with The Enterprise.

“It’s a big unknown at this point,” Gaige said.

He and his family wrote a letter to the Enterprise editor this week about the solar project, which addresses his concerns about his daughter and more.

“This solar array is going to be 250 feet from my back door, 60 feet from my property line and this is way too close for comfort,” the letter reads in part.

“Residents of the Town of Knox beware,” the letter concludes. “You too may be forced to view a sea of solar panels from your doorstep.”

The last line is evocative of Westerlo’s twin solar projects, which span a combined 90 acres on the historic Shepard Farm property, and which have been criticized extensively and referred to as a “glass ocean.” 

Those farms were built close in time to three other solar projects in Westerlo — another rural Helderberg Hilltown like Knox — and it was the rapid development of these projects that led Westerlo’s town board to issue a year-long moratorium on solar projects in 2019 so that it could properly regulate future projects according to residents’ wishes.

That moratorium was extended until August of this year as the town finishes its comprehensive plan, a document based on residents’ feedback that municipalities use to guide legislation and development.


Property values

The Gaiges wrote that they’re concerned, among other things, about their property values, which is a concern shared by Mark and Chelsea Reamer, of Old Stage Road, who wrote a letter to the planning board that itemized their issues with the project.

RIC Energy responded to some of the concerns raised by the Gaiges and others in a document that was posted to the town website. The developer cited a number of studies conducted on property values that conclude that property values will not be impacted, or at least don’t support a conclusion that there will be an impact. 

The Enterprise covered property value impacts by solar projects late last year by looking at a number of studies conducted on the matter, the most substantial of which found that homes within one mile of a solar farm would depreciate in value by 1.7 percent, and that for every tenth of a mile closer a home was, the value would drop by another percentage, with homes one-tenth of a mile away depreciating in value by 7 percent.

The author of the study, Corey Lang, an associate professor of natural resource economics at the University of Rhode Island, had surveyed 400,000 property transactions in Massachusetts and Rhode Island that took place between 2004 and 2019.

In the document responding to homeowner concerns, RIC Energy cites an article by Scenic Hudson, an environmental advocacy organization, which notes that because solar energy in New York is a recent development, not many studies have been conducted on property-value impacts, but that the relationship between wind turbines and property values can serve as a comparison.

It’s not obvious from which study or studies Scenic Hudson drew its conclusions that wind turbines don’t impact property values, but the Center for Rural Affairs agrees.

Citing a 2013 study conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which looked at 50,000 real-estate transactions near 67 wind facilities across nine states, the Center for Rural Affairs stated that no impact on property values should be expected from the construction of a wind farm. 



In approving the solar farm’s site plan, the Knox planning board stated the following conditions. Before construction can start, there must be:

— Town board approval of certificate of liability insurance;

— Finalization of the SEQR by the planning board; and

— Receipt of opinion from the Albany County Planning Board

And before the farm can operate, there must be:

— Town board approval of the developer’s reclamation bond;

— Completion of payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreements with all involved taxing jurisdictions (such as Berne-Knox-Westerlo Central Schools);

— Installation of all safety components requested by the Knox fire department; and 

— Issuance of a building permit by the town’s building inspector.

Thomas Reimer
Joined: 05/05/2020 - 13:16
How to get clean energy?

It is always the same conundrum--everyone agrees on clean energy, but please not in my back yard. I love visting Berne (live in Guilderland) and feel sad for the loss of 18 acres of forest. Perhaps this could be planned better (and where will the panels go in 30 years, I hope there is a plan for easy recycling), but those solar panels and wind energy turbines must go somewhere if we are to cut the carbon in this county. I would live with a turbine or solar, too. Best of course instead of cutting forests, would be to place solar panels on buildings, esp. office buildings in Albany, along roads & bridges, etc.

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