Town planners working with soil & water agency on solar farm pollination guidelines
Town of Batavia officials, in conjunction with the Genesee County Soil & Water Conservation District, are looking at adopting guidelines for solar farm developers to follow when it comes to pollinator habitat plantings on ground-mounted systems.
Appearing at the Batavia Town Planning Board meeting on Tuesday night at the Town Hall, Bradley Mudrzynski, district manager for GCSWCD (photo at right), presented a draft of a plan that covers topics such as the need and importance of pollination, planting process, maintenance and performance standards.
“The main thing is for flexibility (in the plan) – having the ability to plant in the fall or spring with either stock mix or through a seed contractor,” Mudrzynski said. “In the end, (you’re saying) the seed mix should look like this, with these characteristics.”
Mudrzynski’s plan supports the Town’s concern over losing prime farmland to solar development – even if temporarily – and the Town’s view that “pollinator habitat plantings can mitigate farmland losses and increase ecosystem services provided to farms in the form of pollination.”
Discussion with the planning board ultimately came down to the percentage of the solar farm that should be seeded, where to locate grass mix in the solar array and enforcement of the guidelines as they pertain to special use permits issued by the Town.
“When you spec out a 10-acre site (for example), what percentage of the solar array do you want planted down?” Mudrzynski asked. “Between the rows? Around the outside? Thirty percent? (The point being) finding a good and reasonable acreage or percentage.”
Working off a solar site pollinator habitat scorecard from the state of Vermont, planners initially said they were in favor of a 46 to 60 percent vegetative cover for each solar project. After more discussion, they agreed on 80 percent of the lot, including putting grass mix under the solar panels.
“And this (level) would cover those solar farms already approved since none have more than 20 percent (of the total space) for access roads,” said Steve Tanner, a planning board member.
As far as enforcement once the guidelines are formally approved, planners decided to include the pollinator piece in the special use permit and to require developers to work with GCSWCD or an “agreed-upon equally qualified consultant” such as a landscaper or architect to perform periodic inspections.
Planners also talked about the importance of developers contracting with licensed herbicide applicators to ensure that performance standards are achieved.
Following the 20-minute discussion, Planning Board Chair Kathy Jasinski said she will share the draft of the plan with other Town leaders and asked Mudrzynski to return to the next planning board meeting on Oct. 15 with an updated version.
In other developments, the planning board:
-- Voted to extend the State Environmental Quality Review process and tabled the developers’ application in connection with a proposal to build two 20-acre, 7.2-megawatt ground solar systems at 8050 Oak Orchard Road (Route 98).
The request by Borrego Solar Systems LLC has been in the works for quite some time, hampered by the fact that it seeks to site the solar farm on land that is in the Town’s Planned Business Development District.
Requirements of the PBD District center on a development of at least 100 acres – a measure put in by Town officials to ensure large-scale commercial projects that would benefit the Town and preserve the agricultural viability of the land.
Jasinski said that the board will take no action “until we get more information” from Borrego. She said she expects the developer to come in with a new application, which could result in having to redo the SEQR application as well.
Extension of the SEQR was mutually agreed upon by both the planning board and Borrego, as required, she noted.
-- Received an update from project officials Dan Yanosh and Tom Healy on the revisions made to their proposal for a 19.8-acre, 4-megawatt ground-mounted solar system at 3565 Galloway Road.
Last month, the plan by Bright Oak Solar LLC to place solar panels on property owned by Wayne Dunham was met with solid opposition from neighbors on Galloway and Lewiston roads, with comments focusing on lack of screening, decreased property values, and potential negative effects on the environment and aesthetics.
Yanosh and Healy presented another visual of the layout, this time noting that they added screening (trees) along the front on the southeast side – in response to an objection from the adjacent property owner – and increased the size of the culvert in front and reduced the number of poles from five to four.
Jasinski advised them that no action will be taken until they meet with town engineers and zoning officers to review the changes.
She did say the matter would be put on the board’s Oct. 15th meeting agenda as long as she receives a report from the aforementioned town officials before that date.