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February 8, 2017 - 8:47am

Batavia Town planners debate pros, cons of solar farm projects

posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia Town Planning Board, solar farms.

As Batavia Town planners moved a pair of solar farm projects ahead Tuesday night, they debated the ramifications of more of these ventures upon agricultural land in the future.

The planning board approved seeking lead agency status for state environmental quality review for 11-acre solar farms on properties owned by Thomas Lichtenthal at 8169 Bank Street Road and Call Farms at 7755 Oak Orchard Road.

Both landowners are working with ForeFront Power to repurpose a portion of their 93-acre and 83.5-acre parcels, respectively, to connect to the power grid and generate about two megawatts of power each – enough electricity to service about 300 homes.

In typical solar farm agreements, property owners receive “rent” for using their land, which becomes a vehicle to produce electricity from a clean, renewable source -- while the solar company benefits by selling the solar power to the utility company.

The Lichtenthal and Call farms proposals first came to the planning board in December 2015.

Genesee County Planning Director Felipe Oltramari reported that the area to be used on the Call Farms property was not prime land for farming, while the Bank Street Road site is in an archeologically sensitive area and will need additional documentation.

Following their positive lead agency votes, board members and Oltramari discussed the solar farm issue in the context of the loss of prime agricultural land.

As the only town in the county that has zoning for solar farms, Oltramari said the protection of farm land “could become an issue as you get more of these” projects.

Planner Lou Paganello said he could see things getting out of hand.

“I didn’t think we’d be talking about giving up to 100 acres,” he said. “Where do we stop things from getting out of control? What are our options?

“Looking at the long term, we could have 50, 100 or 200 of these coming in. We need to know our legal rights and limits.”

Code Enforcement Officer Daniel Lang reminded board members that they had previously discussed solar farms at length and had decided to allow them as long as they didn’t exceed 20 acres.

“I think we should have done it (consider other restrictions) then, not after we’ve received applications,” he said.

Planner Jeremy Liles agreed with Lang, adding “how can we regulate the way someone uses their land?”

Town Engineer Steve Mountain noted that the local law was enacted to limit solar farms in size and that the special use permit process “gives us more say” concerning the most beneficial use of the land – a point echoed by Lang.

While some said they foresee many more solar farm applications down the road, planner Paul Marchese said he wasn’t so sure of that.

“I don’t think there will be an explosion because of the requirements that they (solar farms) need to be so close to the (power) grid,” he said.

In other developments:

-- Planners approved the construction of a 64-foot by 150-foot open air pavilion that would be attached to the existing building at the Bontrager Auctions site at 8975 Wortendyke Road. Voting came after planners determined that the project would have no impact upon the environment.

Owner Todd Jantzi said he will employ Dave Bennett Construction to build the pavilion, starting in March. He said that the covered structure, which will replace a tent, will enable him to conduct auctions year-round.

-- The board discussed a proposal by Pellegrino Auto Sales to put on a three-bay addition, measuring 1,200 square feet, at the dealership located at 4060 Pearl Street Road.

This proposal needs to go through the variance process, starting with the Genesee County Planning Board to the Town Zoning Board of Appeals and back to the Town Planning Board.

-- Town Engineer Steve Mountain said that the town has completed three of four required “high-impact actions” toward its goal of achieving Clean Energy Communities status and earning one of 14 grants in the Genesee/Finger Lakes Region -- 10 at $50,000 and four at $100,000 -- through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority program.

Mountain said that the town has successfully implemented the Benchmarking, Unified Solar Permit and Energy Code Enforcement Training actions, and expects to finish the LED Street Lights component by this summer. The town has about 70 street lights that need to be converted to energy-efficient LEDs.

On Monday night, City of Batavia officials attended a presentation on the program, which was reported on The Batavian.

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