Knox planning board to hold public hearing on Knox II solar project

KNOX — On Jan. 20, Knox residents can share their thoughts with the town planning board on a 5-megawatt solar facility that’s proposed by RIC Energy, to be built at 1953 Thomspons Lake Road. 
The parcel the solar field is expected to be built on is 66 acres, made up mostly of shrubland. Just over half that area is to be affected, according to project documents generated by RIC Energy and posted on the Knox municipal website. 

Project manager Chris Ross told the planning board at its meeting last week that the company will not use herbicides on the property. According to the project operation and maintenance plan, RIC will be responsible for keeping up the property and facility as needed or scheduled.

Both Thompsons Lake Road and Route 156 run alongside the proposed site, which is near the now-closed Highlands Restaurant.

Visual impact assessments state that existing vegetation and a proposed tree-line would make the facility all but invisible to passers-by. The facility, which would be 1.2 miles from Thacher State Park, would be impossible to see from park property, owing to the higher elevation of the proposed project site and vegetation between the two properties, RIC claims. 

The project site is also adjacent to the Margaret Burke Wildlife Management Area, but is expected to be similarly low-impact.

“Project operation will have no impact on the wildlife in the area,” wrote the chief executive officer of RIC’s United States division, Jonathan Rappe, in a letter to the planning board. “Project construction, which may introduce noise beyond ambient conditions, will be very limited in time and is assumed not to be a significant impact.”

Rappe wrote that the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation will evaluate the project through the State Environmental Quality Review process.

If the proposal is accepted, construction of the facility is scheduled to begin on Aug. 1 and continue through mid-November. RIC would be responsible for decommissioning the project, meaning it’s obligated to restore the land to a certain negotiated condition — a common stipulation in solar project proposals. 

The current plan obligates RIC to remove all facility materials and then plant “appropriate ground cover as requested by the Town of Knox.” It goes on to say that “some minor grading may be required” and that any removed topsoil would be replaced.

The decommissioning process would be triggered when the land lease ends, when the facility is damaged and won’t be repaired or replaced, or if it fails to generate power for 12 months. The facility would have a projected lifespan of 35 years.

This project is RIC’s second within the town in two years, the first being a failed proposal not far from the currently proposed site. The proposal failed only because a planning board member who was planning to vote in favor of the project was suddenly absent from the online meeting — she said because of a family crisi — just as she was meant to cast her vote, leaving the board without the supermajority it required to override the Albany County Planning Board’s disapproval of the project. 

Although that first proposal would have likely succeeded if resubmitted, Ross, who was not involved with the original project, told The Enterprise that criticism from residents who live near the proposed site “did not fall on deaf ears,” and the project has been shelved in favor of this new proposal. 

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