Borrego Solar says glare seen from Thacher would be minimal

— From Borrego Solar Systems

A study of glare from 11 different locations for a proposed solar array on an addressless parcel of land along Altamont Road, located in between 215 Altamont Road and National Grid’s high-voltage transmission lines, found that there would be glare from eight of the 11 locations. However, a separate study that incorporated existing topography, vegetation, and proposed landscaping concluded that glare was not a problem at all for most locations and a minimal problem for the others.

NEW SCOTLAND — The New Scotland Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday set an Oct. 27 public hearing for a proposed large-scale, ground-mounted, solar array on an addressless parcel of land along Altamont Road. 

The zoning board also referred the project to the Albany County Planning Board.

Borrego Solar Systems, a California-based company with a local office in Latham, is seeking to install 20 acres of solar panels — arranged in two separate arrays — on a vacant 27-acre site owned by New Scotland resident Steven Burke that is located in between 215 Altamont Road and National Grid’s high-voltage transmission lines.

Although the hearing is because Borrego is seeking an area variance so it can install its array on prime agricultural soils, the bulk of the board’s concerns focused on glare.

During the Sept. 22 zoning meeting, Chairman Jeffrey Baker said that he and  other members of the board had visited the property on Sept. 17, and that it had been “very useful.” But Baker also said the board was still waiting for an updated glare study that includes an analysis from Thacher Park. 

Project engineer ReJean DeVaux had thought he submitted the updated study, but it sounded like a case of crossed wires because The Enterprise was able to obtain a copy of the updated study from DeVaux 10 days ago — a copy of which is available with the online version of this story.



During the Aug. 25 meeting, Baker brought up a point made by board member Dean Sommer: The visual-and-glare analysis submitted by Borrego did not include the view from Thacher Park, which is two miles away.

Sommer said the board could be criticized for “forever” changing the view.

Baker was told by DeVaux at the time that a Thacher Park analysis did exist; it had just been done separately from the rest of the glare study because it had been a “more complex receptor.” 

The updated visual-and-glare analysis “suggests that a limited amount of glare may be seen” from the Thacher Park Overlook parking lot for “a few weeks in April and again in August at 7:00 am for up to 20 minutes.” 

But the glare study doesn’t take into account vegetation, DeVaux previously told The Enterprise, like the existing row of tall pine trees on the edge of Indian Ladder Farms along Tygert Road, which also obscures the site, according to a separate photo report provided by DeVaux.

The separate line-of-sight analysis took into account the existing topography, and found “the impacts to visitors of Thacher State Park are limited given the distance, vegetation, and terrain.”

During the Sept. 22 zoning board meeting, Sommer asked DeVaux how glare is defined, and, after a little discussion about the topic, DeVaux summarized that “glare is literally if you look at these panels, [it’s] that you can see a reflection of the sun.”

Sommer then asked if the glare was only relevant from the escarpment, wouldn’t it also affect motorists as well?

DeVaux said the study analyzed 10 different locations, or receptors —  four from motorist vantage points and six residential — for glare (see related map). For seven of the 10 receptors, the study found there would be a glare impact on those locations. (Thacher Park had been the 11th observation point in the study and it was determined that there would be a minimal glare impact on the park.)

However, the line-of-sight analysis — which takes into account the existing topography, vegetation, and proposed landscaping — found that no glare was possible from six of the seven receptors due to terrain obstruction, and glare was unlikely from the seventh receptor due to existing vegetation. 

DeVaux said the report is a Federal Aviation Administration-based study, “essentially if somebody was trying to land a plane, that’s what they use for impact — so, that’s pretty conservative.” And so, if the glare is determined not to bother somebody trying to land a plane, he said, then it’s not going to bother “motorists at that same glare level.”

“So it’s not aesthetic-based; it’s actually interfering with vision,” Sommer said.

“It’s not saying I can’t see panels,” DeVaux responded. “It’s saying, ‘I can’t see a reflection off those panels.’ That’s what this report is saying.”

“Basically creating a nuisance or being intrusive,” Baker said 

“Exactly,” DeVaux said.



The upcoming public hearing is because Borrego needs an area variance from the town’s solar law so that the company can install its array on prime soils. 

The soil is classified as prime by Albany County, which makes it very difficult to have its soil maps overturned. There’s often a deferral to previous maps when looking at soils, it was said during the meeting, 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 Solar is looking for a variance, which the zoning board previously determined to be an area variance and not a use variance because the use — a solar farm — is allowed in the zoning district. ​


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