Solar company leaves Guilderland, heads for ‘solar-friendly’ Knox

GUILDERLAND — The first applicant for a solar farm under Guilderland’s new zoning law has withdrawn its application.

“We’ll focus on Knox,” Justin Beiter, vice president of operations for U.S. Solutions, said this week. “The town of Knox seems more positive on solar.”

The Guilderland application from the California-based company was for a nine-acre, two-megawatt solar array on a 60-acre parcel off of Route 156; the solar farm would have perched on the shoulder of the Helderberg escarpment just above the village of Altamont.

On Oct. 4, the village board recommended the application be disapproved; this would have required a supermajority vote by Guilderland’s zoning board for the project to proceed.

The day after the Altamont vote, Beiter told The Enterprise his company would table the project in Guilderland.

“They wouldn’t let us table,” Beiter told The Enterprise this week. “We had to move forward or withdraw. Right now, it’s an uphill battle. It’s a large town but the locals on the hill objected.”

Beiter said his company had invested a lot in the Guilderland project, re-designing five times, and cutting the array’s size by two-thirds to meet with the new zoning requirements for a large buffer. U.S. Solutions’ initial plans, he said, had been to lease the former, now-vacant Peter Young Center, built as a seminary, on Route 156 near the proposed solar farm, as a “solar school to teach young New Yorkers how to build solar power plants.”

Beiter said his company was following the governor’s directive. Andrew Cuomo’s Clean Energy Standard commitment, requiring half of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2030, was approved by the Public Service Commission in August.

National Grid had assigned U.S. Solutions two megawatts for its project in Guilderland and another two megawatts for its project in Knox, Beiter said.

He plans to be at the Nov. 10 Knox Planning Board meeting to “sit down with the board and introduce our concept.”

Beiter said that the two-megawatt solar farm that will be proposed for Knox would use the same Route 156 power line the Guilderland project would have used. “It will be way back from the road, not seen from the road, not seen by neighbors,” he said of the planned Knox array.

Another solar company, Borrego, is in the midst of getting approval from the town to build an array on a Knox farm near the intersection of Route 156 and Old Stage Road.

Robert Price, chairman of the Knox Planning Board, said he had spoken with an engineer at LaBella Associates, a Rochester-based firm working for U.S. Solutions. “I gave him a long list of what we’d like to have at the beginning of a conversation,” said Price.

Price said he doesn’t know any details about U.S. Solutions’ plans for Knox.

Knox could be described as “solar-friendly,” Price said.

“It’s safe to say that; we have 40 systems in the town — both rooftop and on the ground,” said Price. “Knox is trying to be designated a Climate-Friendly Community.”

Knox is a rural town, with a population of 2,700 while Guilderland is a suburban town with a population of about 35,000.

Guilderland’s supervisor, Peter Barber, was an architect of the town’s new zoning ordinance, having served for years as chairman of its zoning board. He said this week that a withdrawal in the midst of an application for a special-use permit was not unusual.

Barber sees no problems in the town’s new zoning. “The old code did not regulate solar,” he said. “The new code permits solar farms in rural agricultural districts, but with aggressive setbacks.”

Barber does not think solar arrays are incompatible with a rural landscape. “I see a lot of them in Vermont,” he said, noting that is a state with “a population sensitive to the environment.”

Asked about the objections raised by owners of the Old Stone Inn, a Revolutionary War-era building, which would have been right next to the solar farm, Barber said, “When you have historical structures, it’s considered under SEQRA,” a reference to the State Environmental Quality Review Act. Zoning and planning board review, Barber said, “would take into account historic structures.”

Marc Roman, a lawyer who owns the Old Stone Inn with his wife, Marianne, was instrumental in raising problems with the proposal. “I’m relieved,” he said on Wednesday when The Enterprise told him the application had been withdrawn, “that there was some realization it wasn’t right for the community. We can stop worrying about the destruction of the environment on that part of the hill.”

Roman also said, “None of us are against clean energy standards…This was just not the right fit.”

Similarly, Altamont’s mayor, James Gaughan, stressed this week that the village is not “philosophically against alternative energy or a solar farm.” Gaugahn said, “It just couldn’t be done the way it was described.”

Gaughan said of U.S. Solutions, “They may be back and re-apply, and we would look carefully to see if it addresses the points we brought up.” The village had given a point-by-point explanation of the problems it saw with the plan, to which Beiter responded through The Enterprise (online at

Gaughan said that the village had to respond to the proposal in a short time; he said he hadn’t realized, until he read Beiter’s responses in The Enterprise, that the company had been working with Guilderland officials on the project for months, nor had he realized plans originally included leasing the Peter Young Center for a solar school.

The mayor went on, “Altamont, small as it is, has a treasured culture and history that is part of its appeal. The solar farm as presented didn’t fit.”

“We did a lot of work,” Beiter said of the Guilderland proposal. “We spent a lot of money.”

Asked when, if ever, his company would reapply, Beiter said, “If the town ever decides they’d like to go green and the neighbors change their minds.”

He concluded, “I’ve been doing solar since 2001 and never heard anybody with such a negative outlook on solar.”

More Guilderland News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.