Proposed solar farm for Altamont Reservoir further mitigates specious report that it’s a ‘threat’

Altamont Reservoir

Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer
The Altamont Reservoir hasn’t been used in 12 years. 

ALBANY COUNTY — With a recently presented, potentially lucrative solar-farm proposal for the site, the only “high hazard” the Altamont Reservoir poses is to any meagerly-funded village coffers, which is to say, the solar project’s approval “may result in widespread or serious” revenue for the village.

This week, a report from the Associated Press identified the Altamont Reservoir, which is located in the town of Knox, as one of about 1,690 “high-hazard dams rated in poor or unsatisfactory condition as of last year in 44 states and Puerto Rico.”

Dams were listed as high hazard by the AP because a failure would likely result in people being killed. 

The reservoir hasn’t been used in 12 years, and, for the last three to four years, based on the recommendation of the state’s  Department of Environmental Conservation, the village has kept the water level very low — about 25 percent of the reservoir’s total capacity — to take some of the pressure off the dam in case of a big storm, Jeff Moller, Altamont’s Superintendent of Public Works, told The Enterprise on Tuesday. 

The dam itself is in no imminent threat of collapse or breach, Moller said, noting that it’s the state of a cracked wall in the the lower spillway that the DEC takes issue with; the wall would have had to have been replaced. 


— From Russell Pokorny
This week, the Associated Press reported the Altamont Reservoir in Knox — pictured here beneath a sea of green, nary a site of civilization to be seen — is one of the few “high-hazard dams” in the United States, meaning its failure is likely to result in people being killed.

The spillway is a 20-foot wide steeply-sloping concrete chute that controls the water leaving the reservoir, Moller said; its function is to help relieve pressure on the dam itself.

There are also no plans to make any major repairs, Moller said; rather, the village is leaning toward decommissioning the dam because “there’s no point in using the water.” The village currently gets its water from a well on Gun Club Road and two wells on Brandle Road 

“There is no national standard for inspecting dams, leading to a patchwork of state regulations,” the AP reported. “Some states inspect high-hazard dams every year while others wait up to five years. Some states never inspect low-hazard dams — though even farm ponds can eventually pose a high hazard as housing developments encroach.”

Moller said that the Department of Environmental Conservation comes out once a year to inspect the condition of the Altamont Reservoir dam.

Moller also files an annual report with the DEC, which is to update the village’s emergency action plan. Moller said that his report includes an explanation of how the village performs its own in-house inspections, in which he looks for trees growing up through embankments or debris and fallen logs that may get caught in a spillway. “Mostly, just visible aspects of it,” he said


Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer
The Altamont Reservoir


Over the course of its two-year investigation, in addition to a review of federal data, the AP used state open-records laws to obtain local dam performance reports. There are more than 90,000 dams in the United States; for 25,000 of them, the AP was able to determine both the condition and hazard ratings.

Depending on the source and the sources’ interpretation as to what constitutes a dam, there are between 5,350 “functioning dams” and 7,000 dams in New York State; or there are 5,893 state-regulated dams and 1,934 National Inventory of Dams dams; and sometimes, it’s confusing with thousands of dots displayed on a map.

By any measure, whether it’s the county, state, Army Corps of Engineers, or Associated Press that is counting, the Altamont Reservoir has seen better days.

And yet, the future still appears bright for the 120-year old dam. 



In November 2017, Knox and Altamont settled a decade-long argument over the value of the reservoir, a move that has already saved the village tens-of-thousands of dollars in tax payments to the Guilderland Central School District.

After the two municipalities struck the deal, the reservoir’s assessable value went from $1 million in 2017 to $642,000 just a year later. 

The village paid about $20,200 in taxes to GCSD for the 2019-20 school-tax season. During the 2018-19 school year, Altamont paid about $21,000 in taxes to the school district; for the 2017-18 school year, it was about $30,000; and, for the 2016-17 school year, the village paid the school district about $33,400 in taxes.

Today, the reservoir has a total-assessed value of $642,000 and a full-market value of about $1.15 million.


Solar proposal

At the October meeting of the Altamont Village Board, trustees were presented with a joint-venture proposal from Boulder Point Solar and Blue Wave Solar to install community solar project on a portion of the village’s  303-acre parcel of land in Knox. 

Blue Wave is a Massachusetts-based company that is partnering with local solar developer Boulder Point, represented at the village meeting by Bill Biscone, whose company Enterprise Consulting Services recently caused a minor uproar in the village for its proposal to build a cell tower on Agawam Lane. 

The cell tower, it would appear, is not the eyesore that so many had made it out to be, judging by the dearth of letters to the Enterprise editor decrying it’s recent installation — which took place on Oct. 22.

The developers said they were looking to lease anywhere from 50 to 80 acres of land at the reservoir, but Jonathan Mancini of Blue Wave Solar told the board the number of acres that would be leased depends on how much electricity the proposed project “can put” on National Grid’s infrastructure.

So, the developers won’t know how much acreage they would be leasing until they apply to National Grid to use its infrastructure, but Mancini said it’s in the best interest of the developers to have the largest possible project. According to the state, that would be a 5-megawatt installation, which would yield the project about 660 customers, according to EnergySage, an online comparison-shopping marketplace for solar-panel systems.

As soon as a lease agreement is executed or some form of site control is given to the developers, they can then apply to National Grid to see how much energy they will be able to supply the utility company. 

It was noted that the contract would be similar to the agreement that Altamont had with ECS for the cell tower on village-owned land at 23 Agawam Lane, where the village would continue to own the site and would lease the land to the developers.

The Enterprise has filed a public-records request for a copy of the proposed agreement between the village and Boulder Point and Blue Wave.

Whereas the village will receive 30 percent of all fees collected by ECS from the cell companies using the tower, it was said at the October meeting that the agreement with Boulder Point and Blue Wave would be an annual per-acre fee. 

One relatively local example of a sample agreement comes from the town of Bethel in Sullivan County, where Cypress Creek Renewables proposed leasing up to 90 acres of land from the town, which would receive $1,000 per acre per year in rent.

In Massachusetts, Blue Wave Solar recently signed a lease agreement with the city of Beverly to install a 5-megawatt solar array on 14 acres of former landfill; the 20-year lease is expected to generate $2.7 million in lease revenue for the city and $1.23 million PILOT payments over the period.

After obtaining site control and applying to National Grid, there would be “study periods,” Mancini said at the October village meeting, which could take up to six months; then, after finding out what it will cost to connect to the National Grid infrastructure, Boulder Point and Blue Wave would go before the town of Knox to start the permitting process. 

“If all went well, we could be having a ribbon-cutting out there in 18 months,” Mancini said.

Mayor Kerry Dineen said the dam would have to be decommissioned in order for the solar project to happen, adding that decommissioning has been a topic during the past few budget seasons. Dineen said there has been money in the water fund “for those purposes.”

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