Knox adopts one-year commercial solar moratorium

— Photo from David Whipple

The Whipple property in Knox is the site of the town’s first commercial solar farm, constructed about five years ago on what used to be hayfields.

KNOX — Feeling the heat of solar, the Knox Town Board unanimously adopted a one-year moratorium on commercial solar-energy projects at its meeting this month, hoping to give the town planning board some room to breathe as it juggles its current solar workload. 

Two of the current proposals are from RIC Energy — Knox Solar II, which was approved by the board last year for construction on Thompsons Lake Road; and another, also on Thompsons Lake Road, which is pending approval.

The third project, from Green Leaf Energy, which Altamont Mayor Kerry Dineen told The Enterprise last month took over the project from Borrego, is awaiting approval to be built on the reservoir property in Knox owned by the village of Altamont. 

These projects would together bring the total number of commercial solar properties in the town to four, since the town already has one solar farm that was approved around five years ago, and was the first commercial solar project in the Hilltowns. 

“The planning board really needs to get kind of caught up on the current laws and situations that exist …,” Pokorny said. “I don’t know how they could process any more than they have in the pipe right now.”

The moratorium does not apply to the projects currently being looked at. 

Although Pokorny said that the town could consider an update to its laws, this moratorium is different from Westerlo’s a few years ago, which sought to totally revamp its renewable-energy laws after the town’s planning board approved a number of solar projects in a short period of time, upsetting many residents. 

Knox’s solar law is fairly broad, avoiding too many off-the-shelf restrictions on developers. 

Former Knox Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis told The Enterprise in 2021 that the parameters are instead set by the planning board and are tailored to each project. 

“In my experience, being too specific and requiring every developer to abide by the same set of restrictions can be counterproductive,” Lefkaditis said at the time. 

“For example I have seen where municipalities require extensive and expensive visual buffers for each and every application,” he said. “However, if an applicant is proposing an array in a remote location not visible by passer-byers or residents, that type of restriction, in my opinion, could be considered unjust.”

Still, there seems to be little “community anxiety” around solar, Pokorny said this week. At town board meetings, very few, if any, people have spoken out against solar in any capacity in recent years, and any agita that exists tends to be from those near specific projects. 

Specific opposition can be quite fierce, however, as is the case with the Gaige family, that feels the RIC project still awaiting approval to be built near their home puts their daughter, Alyssa, who has cerebral palsy, at risk because she has a high sensitivity to noise; this is in addition to the more commonly observed worries about their overall quality of life near a commercial solar farm. 

“I wish this had come a little bit sooner,” Alyssa’s mother, Valerie Gaige, told The Enterprise this week of the moratorium. 

But in terms of global opposition, Pokorny said that he, as supervisor — a post he has held since Jan. 1, 2022 — has received only one call about solar development, and that the caller was asking questions more than protesting. 

“I think they’re trusting us to do the right thing,” Pokorny said of the lack of solar controversy in the town. “We’re certainly trying to, and I think our planning board is pretty good at sorting things out and making sensible decisions.” 

It’s not known how viable Knox is for further development, since solar companies often seek to build in places that have existing three-phase lines that transport energy to a hub, and Pokorny said he’s not sure what the town’s current capacity is. 

“If I had to guess, I’d say maybe the lines aren’t ready for it now,” he said, but that a company could always find taking on the expense of upgrading a net benefit. 

“It’s prohibitive sometimes, I think, but it may also be worth it,” Pokorny said.  

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