Escarpment solar project OK’d despite county objections

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
The New Scotland Planning Board on Sept. 14 approved a five-megawatt solar array on a 27-acre property located in between 215 Altamont Road and National Grid’s high-voltage transmission lines.

NEW SCOTLAND — Over a year after first being proposed, 20 acres of solar panels were approved for a vacant plot of land along a well-traveled road in the town of New Scotland.

The New Scotland Planning Board approved the project at its Sept. 14 meeting.

Borrego Solar Systems will install a five-megawatt, large-scale, ground-mounted, solar array on the property. The 27-acre site, owned by New Scotland resident Steven Burke, is located in between 215 Altamont Road and National Grid’s high-voltage transmission lines.

The planning board gave the community-solar project its approval with a set of over two dozen conditions. 

Chief among them was that ample landscape screening be provided for neighbors, in addition to other site landscaping. 

Borrego is also to give purchase priority to New Scotland residents when the community solar project is up and running.

Borrego has to request from the utility company underground utilities for the project — if not possible, the minimum number of utility poles will be requested of National Grid. And copies of request documents are to be provided to the town’s building inspector along with National Grid’s response.

 

County disapproval thwarted 

The Albany County Planning Board disapproved the project, so the planning board, by a supermajority vote, had to approve it — the vote was unanimous.

The New Scotland Zoning Board of Appeals in its approval of the project also overrode the county planning board.  

The county planning board said New Scotland’s solar law prohibits the construction of solar array projects on properties with prime soil. 

The soil is classified as prime by Albany County.

The county makes it very difficult to have its soil maps overturned. There’s often a deferral to previous maps when looking at soils, which makes amending the old maps highly unlikely.

The town’s 2017 solar law says that no large-scale projects are permitted on land that has prime soils, defined as “land that has the best combination of physical and chemical characteristics for producing food, feed, forage, fiber, and oilseed crops and that is available for these uses,” or has more than an acre of mature forest, which contains trees that are predominantly six inches in diameter or more.

So, rather than trying to get the county to change its soil maps, Borrego applied for the variance.

Planning and zoning board attorney Crystal Peck noted the project had already been granted a variance by the zoning board on the prime-soil issue. 

Part of the reason the variance was issued was that Borrego agreed to follow state Agriculture and Market guidelines to preserve the site soil. “Also the fact that the project will be put back into agricultural land at the end of the life of the project,” Peck added.

The county planning board said Borrego had removed all transformers and interconnect infrastructure from its application. 

Peck said that was “no longer necessarily the case.” The application had been amended and the site plan now shows “how all of this is being handled, so we don’t really need to worry about this anymore.”

The county planning board stated, “Re-examining the submission, there is potential for significant glare from multiple viewpoints ….”

Peck said, “I’m not entirely sure what they were looking at that caused them to be concerned about this glare.”

She said the town’s own engineer had reviewed the submission and found that not to be the case. Peck added that the board put in place a procedure that provides for glare mitigation in case there is a complaint or concern that comes from Thacher Park or from vehicles or neighboring properties.

The town’s planning and zoning boards both engaged in extensive discussions about the issue of glare. 

The county planning board also said the project is out of character with the adjacent properties. 

“This property is very-well screened from neighboring properties from the road,” Peck said. 

More New Scotland News

  • “The majority of school districts in the capital area, they are not allowing indoor use by outside organizations; they’re not allowing indoor use during high or substantial transmission rates,” Voorheesville Superintendent Frank Macri said on Oct. 4.

  • For 2022, the town is proposing a tax rate of $1.55 per $1,000 of assessed value for all New Scotland property owners — including those who live in the village of Voorheesville — up from $1.52 per $1,000 of assessed value this year.

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