County planning board disapproves of proposed Thompsons Lake Road solar facility

KNOX — The Albany County Planning Board issued a disapproval of the proposed 4.4-megawatt Thompson’s Lake Road solar facility, in part because of a new regulation that requires the board to consider the Helderberg viewshed when reviewing projects.

The project’s developer, RIC, disagrees about the visibility of the facility, and Albany County Legislator William Reinhardt, who helped develop the new regulation, told The Enterprise this week that the situation described may be outside the regulation’s scope. 

Although the county planning board disapproves of the project, the Knox Planning Board can vote to move ahead anyway, but it would need support from a supermajority — or five members — of the seven-member board. 

The project has already received support from at least five members but Chairman Thomas Wolfe told The Enterprise this week that the Knox board will revisit the project in March and that it’s “too soon to be thinking of an override.”

The county planning board cited eight reasons for its disapproval, including its contention that the project would be visible from John Boyd Thacher State Park, which may put it in conflict with regulation passed unanimously this month by the Albany County Legislature to protect the Helderberg viewshed. 

That regulation, spearheaded by Jeff Perlee, a Republican who represents Altamont and part of the Hilltowns, arose from a controversial solar project in Guilderland at the foot of the escarpment that would have had significant visual impact. That project is now planned for a less obtrusive location.

Perlee said that, prior to the regulation, the county planning board had no criteria with which to assess that impact.

When informed of the county planning board’s decision and the general nature and location of the project, Reinhardt told The Enterprise this week that the legislation may not apply in this case, since the intent is not to prevent solar farms from being visible from any point, but to protect specific viewsheds that have yet to be determined.

“The legislation refers to developing a viewshed study that identifies … roads in the county that are below the escarpment, where the viewshed is most important,” Reinhardt said. “That would have been true for example of roads leading toward Altamont, past Indian Ladder Farms. That kind of thing. Those are the roads that are going to be considered for the viewshed landscape, if you will.

“In other words, it’s not going to be every viewshed from every road. The planning function is going to be to identify viewsheds that are most important. In that sense, the way you describe it … does not sound like what the legislation originally intended.” 

Regardless of the regulation’s applicability, RIC argues that the facility won’t be visible from Thacher Park in the first place.

RIC Permitting Manager John Reagan shared with The Enterprise this week a geographic profile that suggests the elevation difference between the solar farm site and Thacher Park, with the farm site being approximately 330 feet higher than the park, along with forest coverage in between the two, would restrict sightlines. 

The Albany County Planning Board did not return calls or emails seeking comment.

 

County concerns

In addition to the visual impact to Thacher Park, the county planning board cited these concerns:

— Because the project is within 500 feet of tax parcels in an agricultural district, an agricultural data statement that summarizes the project and the proximate farms needs to be filed;

— The “potential noise, glare, fencing, [and] increased use of aerial utilities to support a grid-scale generating facility” are incompatible with the area’s residential and agricultural use;

— Knox residents have voiced objections to the project; 

— There’s a potential of increased runoff as a consequence of clear-cutting over 20 acres of forest; 

— Because the overall disturbance from the project is over five acres, a written justification needs to be made to the New York State Department of Environmental Control; and

— The project may have an impact beyond the borders of the town.

Reagan said on Monday that he was preparing a letter for the Knox Planning Board that would address the remaining concerns and that he would share this letter with The Enterprise when it’s finished. It was not received before publication. 

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