Large solar farm proposed for Thompsons Lake Road

— From RIC Energy
This map shows the general placement of RIC Energy’s proposed 4.4-Megawatt solar farm along Thompsons Lake Road.

KNOX — A 4.4-megawatt solar farm that’s proposed for 1688 Thompsons Lake Road, an undeveloped Knox property of roughly 33 acres owned by Mark and Janet Viscio, will not be subject until a public hearing until at least December. 

Knox Planning Board chairman Tom Wolfe told The Enterprise that the town board must first designate the planning board as lead agency — the entity that determines whether an environmental impact statement is required for a project and then is responsible for the preparation of that statement. 

Following that, various agencies that might want to claim the lead role in the project, such as the Albany County Planning Board or the State Department of Conservation, are allowed 30 days to respond to the designation.

The next regular town board meeting will be held on Nov. 10, leaving Dec. 10 the soonest possible date for a public hearing, Wolfe said.

The project was proposed by Knox PV, LLC, which is a subsidiary of RIC Energy, a solar-energy company headquartered in Madrid, Spain that has 3,725 megawatt peaks across Europe, Africa, India, and the United States. 

The 22-acre project would require approximately three months of construction, involving the removal of more than 18 acres of trees and “limited excavation to install the mounting system,” according to application documents released by the planning board on the Knox town website.

Construction is projected to take place from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. every day, beginning May 1, 2021, and would generate 300 tons of waste, 70 percent of which would be recyclable, according to a construction schedule and environmental assessment form submitted by the developer. 

The majority of construction would be mechanical and electrical, with site preparation taking place in the schedule’s first month. Following construction, the developer claims that there would be no permanent noise, odor, or light impacts, including those from glare. 

The solar farm has a projected operational life of 35 years, according to the developer, who also submitted a decommissioning plan that would come into effect when the solar farm fails to produce power for a period of 12 months. The plan requires the developer to restore the land to a certain condition agreed upon by the developer and the town.

Over the course of the solar farm’s life, there will be an annual review of the site to document “all abnormal conditions related to wildlife, vegetation, water management and erosion within the array area,” according to the developer’s maintenance plan. Review may also occur more frequently, if necessary. 

 

Background

Although the RIC Energy application indicates that there will be little environmental impact, the project will likely come under scrutiny by some residents, given the defensiveness many people have against development in their hometown, a sensibility that’s particularly prevalent in the Hilltowns, where country vistas are considered a fundamental aspect of the four communities. 

In Westerlo, the twin solar fields occupying 90 acres of the Shepard Farm property caused a major controversy between those who feel the “glass ocean” is an eyesore at best and a safety hazard at worst; and those, like Westerlo Planning Board Chairwoman Dotty Verch, who are more focused on the revenue that solar farms can generate for towns through payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreements.

The Shepard Farm solar arrays were part of a bevy of solar projects approved by the town in a short period of time, with a total of five projects installed since 2017, when Westerlo adopted its first set of solar ordinances.

Because of the onslaught of proposals and the public concern over environmental impact, the town board established a yearlong solar moratorium in 2019 that was extended, this year, until August 2021, allowing the town time to establish a more robust comprehensive plan. 

Although not a solar proposal, cell towers proposed in Berne and Rensselaerville by the county sheriff with the aim of improving first-responder communication prompted significant debate, with nearly all the detractors upset about the towers conspicuous placement atop U’Hai hill in Berne and marring a view of the Catskills in Rensselaerville. The towers were eventually approved.

New York State is currently incentivizing solar development to meet the goals of its Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo last year, which requires 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 and economy-wide, net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

These financial incentives are finite, and doled out by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority in “blocks,” which define the incentives for kilowatt capacity schedules. That amount decreases as more kilowatts are produced. For example, Upstate Region commercial subsidies are currently handed out at 15 cents per kilowatt. Once 4,100,000 kilowatts are generated, the incentive rate will decrease to 13 cents per kilowatt.

 

More Hilltowns News

  • A digital equity map, put together by a coalition of organizations including the New York State Education Department and the New York State Library, shows that approximately 15 percent of Hilltown households don’t have internet access, whether because they don’t have an internet subscription or because they don’t have internet-capable devices.

  • The Berne Town Board held a public hearing on a new animal-control law this week and received mostly minor suggestions for alteration from a public that seemed largely pleased with the proposed regulations. 

  • The Albany Water Board, steward of the Basic Creek dam in Westerlo, has received $100,000 from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to come up with a design for a rehabilitation project for the high-hazard dam, which is in substandard condition.

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