Farm family seeks zone change for solar facility

— Map from Kenneth Kovalchik’s memo to the Guilderland Town Board

A 128.4-acre parcel, with an address of 6283 Farm Lane, labeled “subject parcel,” is between Guilderland’s Western Turnpike Golf Course and Foundry Road. In order to put a solar facility on 34.86 acres of that property, the Pruskowski family wants to change the zoning for those acres from a Residential Overlay District to a Rural Agricultural District.

GUILDERLAND — As part of an ongoing and lengthy process, the town board here on July 18 accepted the application for a zoning change that would allow a large solar facility to be built west of Foundry Road and east of the town’s golf course.

The request is to zone about 35 acres in the midst of a 128-acre parcel as a Rural Agricultural District; it is now zoned as a Residential Overlay District. The Pruskowski family plans to plant “a friendly pollinator mix” on the solar site and graze sheep there.

The matter will now go to the Guilderland Planning Board for review and recommendation before it returns to the town board for a final decision on the zoning change. Supervisor Peter Barber noted that the zoning change would involve the town board adopting a local law prior to which a public hearing would be held.

The rezone is also being reviewed by the Albany County Planning Board because the parcel is located within a county-designated agricultural district.

Loren Pruskowski, describing himself as the son of Diane and Gary Pruskowski and the owner of Ecolegacy Values, said the limited liability company is “holding the development assets on behalf of my family.”

He described the property where the solar panels would be erected as on “essentially two different planes” — an upper and a lower plane.

“The lower plane has Foundry Road and then it goes to Grant Hill and that’s where all the houses are,” he said. “And so we purposely put it on the upper plane so that no one could see the project.”

He also said, “From people’s homes, they will not be able to see this project at all.” Pruskowski added, “If there are any individual neighbors that are really concerned, please talk to me or my family, and we can address your concerns.”

Just one neighbor of the proposed project, Ed Downey, of 6202 Foundry Road, spoke at last week’s meeting and he was in favor of the solar facility.

“Gary’s a great neighbor,” he said of Loren’s father. “He’s very conscientious about the environment and as a farmer and wants to maintain the land so we’re hoping that this will go through.”

The town’s planner, Kenneth Kovalchik, wrote in a July 12 memo to the town board that the property is identified in the 2007 Guilderland Hamlet Neighborhood Plan as “agricultural” so the zoning change “supports the vision for this neighborhood,” said Kovalchik who recommends the change.

The 2007 plan, Kovalchik notes, recommended that a “green infrastructure” network be recognized to provide “an interconnected system of open space, agriculture, and recreation. The backbone of this system is made up of the town parks and athletic fields, the Normanskill and Kaikout Kill, the hamlet’s unique topography, its active farm operations, and the Pine Bush Preserve.”

The parcel, Kovalchik goes on, is located within the “Historic Hamlet” segment of the plan’s study area. “A primary recommendation for this segment of the study area is to maintain the surrounding area as a greenbelt,” Kovalchik writes.


Road map

Dave Byrne, Renua Energy founder and the company’s chief executive officer, told the town board  that he is working with the Pruskowski family and met with town representatives in January. His company is based in South Glens Falls and has worked on over 40 projects across the state, he said.

“We came up with a basic road map for how we can achieve this proposed project permitting,” said Byrne.

Wetlands on the property have been delineated and Renua has “reached out” to the State Historic Preservation Office “to get all the discretionary approvals,” Byrne said.

After getting the requested rezone, Byrne said, the planning board would need to approve a minor subdivision and the zoning board would have to grant an area variance as well as a special-use permit.

Byrne said that the Pruskowski family is taking an “innovative approach” to promote agriculture on the solar facility site. “We propose to conduct sheep grazing on the site,” he said.

“A local friendly pollinator mix will be planted and sheep grazing will be used,” says an Agricultural Data Statement submitted to the town by Ecolegacy Values, Loren Pruskowski’s company.

There would be two separate sites of arrays on the rezoned 35 acres, Byrne said. A smaller array to the north would be a ground-mount fixed-tilt array for 2.8 megawatts, he said, while the larger array to the south would “have what’s called a single-access tracker” for 5 megawatts.

The panels will be able to absorb sunlight from both their front and back sides, he said. The tracker tilts panels so they follow the sun, angling to get the most light depending on the time of day.

After going through utility review, the project has been approved for 7.8 megawatts, Byrne said; the initial term for a lease would be 25 years with potential extensions up to 40 years.

“The array will include the construction of a 20 foot wide access road, new above and below-ground utility lines, transformer/inverter pads, and a 7-foot high fence per national electric code,” says the statement submitted to the town.


Board views

Asked by Councilwoman Christine Napierski if there was a decommissioning plan, Byrne responded, “That’s a standard practice for solar projects.” He believes a draft of the plan has been submitted with various applications.

“It’ll ensure that the land is reverted back to its original condition upon completion of the lease term,” said Byrne.

Barber asked if there would be protection from stray golf balls hitting the panels.

Byrne said that a tree line to the north of the facility would “serve as effective screening both visually and then also as a protective buffer against golf balls.” He said, too, that the panels can withstand one-inch hail at 52 miles per hour.

There would be a weather station on site, Byrne said, that will cause the panels to be stowed in the most secure position at zero degrees, if there is inclement weather.

It is expected that no more than a few acres of trees would be cleared for the project. Loren Pruskowski said that his family would like to see some of the hedgerows cleared because they are a haven for ticks and some family members have suffered from Lyme’s disease.

“I think we could kill two birds with one stone by getting rid of some of this tick habitat and allowing for a greater production in a non-visible setting,” said Pruskowski.

“He knows what he’s talking about,” said Barber of Pruskowski. Barber said he had attended an Association of Towns seminar on solar, which was conducted by Pruskowski.

Napierski said she wanted to ensure “people aren’t going to have solar panels right in their backyard.”

Pruskowski responded that less than 1-percent of the facility would be visible “from a very small location on Foundry Road,” where Foundry and Knott roads meet. He added that drivers would have no problems with glare.

Pruskowski reiterated, “I would love to hear people’s feedback with regards to how this affects their visual impact. And, if there’s something that I could do to viably meet their needs then I will consider it.”

Byrne noted that, as part of the process, his company is completing a visual impact study.

Councilman Jacob Crawford asked about fire-department access to the facility. Byrne said, to meet National Grid requirements, there would be a 20-foot wide access for bucket trucks. He also said, “New York state does offer training modules and we’ll make sure that the fire department gets those.”

In the end, the board voted unanimously to accept the application for a zoning change.

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