Decision delayed on New Scotland’s first large-scale solar farm

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
Not quite yet: The New Scotland Planning Board will hold a special meeting on Dec. 12, to determine if it will allow the town’s first large-scale solar farm to be built here, at 331 New Scotland South Road.

NEW SCOTLAND — The town’s planning board has set a special meeting for Wednesday, Dec. 12, to decide whether to allow New Scotland’s first commercial solar farm, after it was told by the project’s developer that it needed immediate approval or else it would have to drop the project.  

At the Dec. 4 planning board meeting, after two hours and 15 minutes of discussion and public comment, a surprised board was told by Jane Qualey, the United States Solar Corporation’s representative for the project, that she needed  a decision on the project that night or else the company would have to walk away from the 1.875-megawatt ground-mounted large-scale solar system at 331 New Scotland South Rd.

The project was first proposed in March, nine months ago.

Qualey said that her company had entered into an interconnection deal with National Grid, the utility that would buy the energy generated by the solar farm, in which US Solar had paid 25 percent upfront and would have to pay the other 75 percent before the end of the year. US Solar wouldn’t commit to paying more money on a project that did not at least have conditional approval from the town, Qualey said.

Some members of the planning board did not appreciate the last-minute nature of the ultimatum. Christine Galvin called it, “rude.”

But Qualey told the board that she had been in contact with Jeremy Cramer, New Scotland’s building inspector, and Crystal Peck, the board’s attorney, about needing approval.

Throughout the process, board members stressed that they were setting precedent for, technically, the first commercial solar field proposed under the new solar code, which was passed in July 2017. That is why the the board went over every granular detail of the project, and wanted to take its time with approval.

For example, at the November planning board meeting, Lynne Furbeck, whose property is adjacent to the proposed solar farm, said there is a well on her property that she was concerned could become contaminated from the herbicides that would be used to control unwanted plants at the proposed project site.

Qualey told Furbeck that US Solar has worked in densely-packed areas for a long time and has developed weed-control, spot-spraying processes that take neighbors into account. But the board asked Qualey for more information about weed mitigation.

At the Dec. 4 meeting, board members were told that weed-control spray used by US Solar is the same as what you would find at a local home center. The board then asked Qualey to come up with a plan for plant and weed control, where the use of spray would be the last option.

Qualey, two hours and 15 minutes into the meeting, said that her company would comply with all of the board’s recommendations — as it had with all other recommendations made by the board, for example, doubling the number of trees in US Solar’s landscape plan — but she needed conditional approval that night to move forward; otherwise the deal with National Grid, as well as for the solar farm, would be nixed.

Not to be swayed, the board called her bluff when it asked if she would agree to come the Dec. 12 meeting with answers to its questions, to which Qualey agreed.

The special meeting will take place on Wednesday, Dec. 12, at 7 p.m., at the Wyman Osterhout Community Center at 7 Old New Salem Rd. The town hall meeting room is being used by the town board at that time.

A first, potentially

In July 2017, New Scotland passed a local law governing solar energy with the primary goal of preserving farmland and open space.

At the time, interest had been piqued in solar farms; Cramer had said he’d received eight and 10 applicants asking about large-scale solar developments over the previous year and a half.

A solar farm off of Route 32 had been approved several years ago, but was never built.

In March, US Solar filed an application to build the 1.875-megawatt solar system at 331 New Scotland South Road. In April, because of the way the law is written, Cramer had to deny the application since there were prime soils located on the site where the solar farm was to be installed. The law was drafted to protect farmland in town.

The zoning board of appeals, in June, determined that the location of the solar panels was not within the prime-soils area of the lot.

Only the planning board has to approve the project, then US Solar would have to apply for a building permit from Cramer’s office, for which he would conduct a review based on state code.

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