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solar farms

June 29, 2019 - 10:25am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, solar farms, Town of Batavia Zoning Board of Appeals.

solar_farm_plan.jpg

A plan to build a 5-megawatt solar farm on Ellicott Street Road in the Town of Batavia is not sitting well with area residents, who shared their views with the property owner at a neighborhood meeting on Friday night.

About 25 people gathered at the home of Bill and Nancy Brach at 5168 Ellicott Street Road to discuss the pros and cons of solar farms in general and to gain information about the specific project proposed by Donald Partridge, owner of a large dairy farm on that road.

“To be honest, probably some of us would like to see if there’s any way to keep this particular project from taking place,” Nancy Brach said.

She was referring to Partridge’s application to put a 36-acre solar farm on land located at 5103 Ellicott Street Road, about a half-mile southeast of Shepard Road – on the left-hand side as you head out of Batavia toward East Bethany.

Brach cited concerns over adverse health effects, proximity to residences, unattractive appearance, negative effect on property values and taxpayer subsidies in her opening statement to the group.

Currently, Partridge’s proposal is on hold since it was denied by the Town Zoning Board of Appeals for being over the maximum size allowed (20 acres). It could be resubmitted, however, if it were modified to show two separate 20-acre parcels or if the ZBA were to reconsider its decision on a variance.

To his credit, Partridge (and his wife, Pat) attended the meeting and stood his ground. And to his neighbors’ credit, the meeting progressed in a respectful, civil manner.

Partridge said that he proposed one 36-acre solar farm instead of two 20-acre units to eliminate the need for two sets of poles and other hardware. He also said that he moved it back from its original location.

“We sought a variance to make it more efficient and when (Trousdale Solar) engineers came back to me with the first design, it was tight up to Folger’s pine trees,” he said.

The proposed site is about 150 feet from the property line of Richard and Jolene Folger at 5105 Ellicott Street Road.

It also is within the sight line of the property of Steve and Mary Smith at 5107 Ellicott Street Road and is not far away from an ARC of Genesee Orleans group home down the road.

While Partridge said his goal was to be “less intrusive to everybody,” that apparently isn’t enough to convince the Smiths and the Folgers.

“We’re concerned about the safety of these solar farms, especially being near residents,” Mary Smith, mentioning the need for “filters” and the possibility of stray voltage.

“It’s not so much about useable energy; what are the effects of this electricity on individuals?” her husband added.

Folger said he needs more accurate data to make an informed decision.

“My biggest objection is that there are too many unknowns,” he said. “How does it affect people’s health and property values? And the Town doesn’t have a handle on setbacks (believed to be 50 feet from a neighboring property).”

Partridge, a member of the Batavia Town Planning Board, acknowledged that he will make a “super income” from the project, much more than he would make if he farmed the land.

He added that he would make sure the soil quality would be retained and is committed to green energy, noting that he has three private windmills on his farm.

“Our resources are limited – gas, oil and coal – and someday will run out,” he said.

The neighbors also voiced their displeasure with the way the Town communicates with area residents when projects such as these pop up.

“We feel the Town was a bit underhanded in notifying us (prior to board meetings). It was a last minute thing,” said Kathy Antonelli, of 5061 Ellicott Street Road, who has been assisting Nancy Brach in this effort.

Toward the end of the meeting, Mary Smith provided Partridge with a ray of hope.

“If you would consider moving it (the solar farm) back a ways (from the road), we would be very grateful,” she said.

Photo: Donald Partridge, right, and Steve Smith look at a map of the site of a 36-acre solar farm being proposed by Partridge on Ellicott Street Road. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

June 26, 2019 - 12:35pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, town of batavia, solar farms, Brach Machine Inc..

The solar farm boom is upon us, which means that more and more rural residents are looking to their municipal leaders to inform them of rules and regulations pertaining to these green-energy producing systems.

That’s one of the reasons why Nancy Brach of 5168 Ellicott Street Road in the Town of Batavia is inviting her neighbors to attend an informational meeting at 6 p.m. this Friday (June 28) at her home. She said the meeting will take place rain or shine, and dessert will be provided.

“We’re having this meeting due to a lack of communication about these projects and to learn what is allowed,” Brach said. “Why are people not notified beforehand? And if something does come up again, we want to have contact information to reach these people (who live near a proposed solar farm site).”

Specifically, Brach and other Ellicott Street Road residents who attended a Batavia Town Planning Board meeting last week were upset about a proposed solar farm installation on land owned by Donald Partridge.

They felt they hadn’t received adequate advance notification of the project, which ended up being denied by the Town’s Zoning Board of Appeals due to the proposed size of 40 acres.

“So this could have taken place with no input at all if not for two people who printed out fliers and left them at our houses last weekend,” she said. “And that is not right. Bill (her husband) and I now read the (legal) notices in the paper, but I doubt we would have noticed that even if we had seen it.”

The Brachs are owners of Brach Machine, which is located at 4814 Ellicott Street Road.

Town Engineer Steve Mountain said the application by Truesdale Solar for the Partridge property could be resubmitted if it were reduced to conform to code (maximum of 20 acres).

He added that if a vote needs to be taken again, the same property owners within 500 feet of the proposed site would be notified by mail.

Although Brach’s home is more than 500 feet away, she believes more should be done to let people know about these projects other than being on the Town’s website.

Brach’s concerns over solar farms go beyond notification methods, however.

“Our meeting will be for awareness,” she said. “These projects benefit two parties -- the person leasing the property and the company installing the solar equipment. The town and the people of the town do not benefit.

“And the funds for these projects come from the taxpayers. These projects do not pay for themselves, they are only profitable with the subsidies we, as taxpayers, fund.”

She decried the expenses to the Town involved in zoning, planning and legal costs, and said that the projects are not self-supporting and should not be permitted until they are.

“And the 20-year bonds may or may not be enough to dismantle the equipment when the time comes, if they even last that long. Plus, people lose the beautiful country vistas that they hoped to enjoy for a lifetime.”

Brach said she thought that the Town of Stafford had a policy “more protective” of the rights of its residents, and hoped that some of Stafford’s ideas could be incorporated into Batavia’s policy.

In the end, she hopes Friday’s meeting will mobilize residents to speak out.

“As a taxpayer, I resent paying for projects that are not profitable just to benefit an individual and a company,” she said. “Luckily, I can afford it. But there are many people who cannot and we need to stand up for them, and for what is right.”

June 23, 2019 - 12:38pm
posted by Billie Owens in Event, solar farms.
Event Date and Time: 
June 28, 2019 - 6:00pm

Meeting notice from Nancy Brach:

Solar farms are all the rage now aren’t they?

The consensus seems to be that taxpayers are paying the folks who lease their land for these farms and the solar companies. They are installing equipment with a fairly short useful life and possible ill effects on our health, and changing our beautiful country landscapes into something less appealing.

Without the subsidies, they would not cover their costs.

August 3, 2018 - 12:35pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in solar farms, batavia, business, GCEDC.

Press release:

The Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC) voted to approve incentives for the construction of two 2MW community solar farms for a combined total of 4MW at 2901 Pearl Street Road. The developer, Pearl Solar LLC will invest approximately $6 million investment and will receive incentives of approximately $472,000 in sales and property tax exemptions.

“While we were concerned about the fact that the project will only create one job, there are other temporary economic impacts such as construction and installation jobs as well as benefits to the local community in approving a renewable energy project of this nature,” said GCEDC Board Chairman Paul Battaglia. 

Among the benefits of the project include: an enhanced property tax payment through a 15-year PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) resulting in approximately $311,000 in property tax payments to Genesee County and the Pembroke school district; energy discounts of 10 percent for local residents who sign an agreement with the company to purchase solar energy from the project(s); and, a community benefit agreement in which Pearl Solar will make a $50,000 donation to the Genesee County STEM2 STAMP workforce development program when the two projects are completed.

“This project fits into our local economic development strategy and marketing alignment as we are finding that renewable energy is becoming a preference item for site selectors or companies conducting site location searches,” said GCEDC President and CEO Steve Hyde. “The project also will have no carbon footprint, providing environmental benefits to local residents and just as important it aligns with Governor Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) initiative.”

November 16, 2017 - 4:14pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in solar farms, solar, news, notify.

solarfarmconstructnov162017.jpg

The state provides a tax exemption to industrial solar projects and until recently county officials didn't realize they had any say on whether to allow these exemptions.

Typically, the projects are built on farmland and the county can continue to tax the property at the established assessed value, but if the solar farm increases the assessed value of the land -- typically 10 acres -- then the property is exempt from taxes on the amount of the assessment increase.

The options for the county are to opt-out, through a local law, on the tax exemption, or establish a PILOT on projects on a case-by-case basis.

PILOT stands for Payment In Lieu of Taxes, and typically a PILOT ramps up the amount of payments made as a percentage of the increase in assessed value over a period of years.

Under state law, the solar farm properties are exempt from taxes on the increase in assessed value for 15 years for county, town and school taxes.

"I think everybody should be able to do what they want with their land but the real issue is the state telling us what we can’t tax them on," said Legislator Andrew Young during a discussion of the issue during yesterday's Ways and Means Committee meeting. "Because of that reason, I think we should at least do something to maintain a little control."

By consent, the committee agreed to have County Attorney Kevin Earl draft a local law to have the county opt-out of the exemption.

There are three solar projects under construction and all three were started before the county learned it had the choice to opt-out of the exemption or establish a PILOT.

The issue came to the county's attention because the builders of a fourth project on Pearl Street Road came to the county and volunteered to pay a PILOT.

That caused Legislator John Deleo to wonder why the company would volunteer for to make PILOT payments.

"I think they know counties are going to start taxing everybody, so they’re going to get ahead of it and don’t want to get stuck with the full no-exemption later on," suggested County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens.

It's unclear if the county can go back to the projects already under construction and void the exemption or require a PILOT.

The company with the project on Pearl Street Road told county officials that not only did they anticipate building other projects in the county, but that officials should expect more solar companies seeking farmland for solar farms locally.

The developers typically lease the farmland at $6,000 a year for 15 years.

Legislator Marianne Clattenburg said that should be a big concern to legislators.

"My fear is we have pretty reasonable land costs here and that these are going to pop up everywhere and it’s open season because Geneses County hasn’t really established any kind of policy regarding (solar farms)," Clattenburg said. "If other counties do start doing it, then we’re going to get the brunt of it all."

Legislator Shelly Stein noted that two of the three solar farms going in are on "wet land," less than prime farmland, and that she's aware of four projects proposed in Le Roy that were turned down by National Grid because the nearest power station is over capacity already.

Hens said the typical project is 2.5 megawatts and costs $5 million to build.

How they should be assessed has yet to be established.

If the Pearl Street Road project goes forward and PILOT is instituted, it won't produce any revenue for the county before 2020, maybe in 2019.

Kevin Andrews, deputy county treasurer, said the PILOT payments won't help the county increase its overall tax levy.

"There’s no overall revenue benefit to the county at that point," Andrews said. "It’s more of a shift so the solar companies are picking up a little extra versus the rest of the taxpayers."

Photo: Taken today of a solar project under construction off State Street Road near West Saile Drive.

October 13, 2017 - 11:06am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Stafford, solar farms, solar energy, news.

staffordsolarspeakeroct122017.jpg

Derek Meister, of The Meister Consultant's Group Inc., and trainer for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, spoke in Stafford on Thursday night for the town's committee studying the impact of potential solar farms.

Meister provided details on the implementation of the Unified Solar Law. The law is a template for local jurisdictions who wish to approve regulations for large-scale industrial solar plants on farmland.

This was the third in a series of talks sponsored by the solar committee. The committee is gathering all the information it can on solar farms, including community, environmental and economic impacts.

The town is halfway through a six-month moratorium on new industrial solar installations in Stafford, giving the committee time to complete its work.

April 14, 2017 - 1:22pm

Mercy EMS is finding its current ambulance staging area at St. Jerome's on Bank Street a little cramped and not conducive to keeping ambulances ready to roll in all kinds of weather, so it's planning a new 11,500 square foot facility off Route 98, just north of the Thruway, in the Town of Batavia.

The new facility will cost about $2 million and the site plan was reviewed and recommended for approval last night by the County Planning Board.

"There’s no space," said Mercy EMS General Manager Bill Schutt of the current location. "We’re in essentially four old hospital rooms there. There’s very limited parking space, obviously, if you’ve been there. In winter times, it’s especially difficult. Ambulances have fluids in them, medications that need to be kept warm, so you’re trying to run heaters inside them to warm them while parked outside. We don’t have any space there to hold meetings, do training, any additional private spaces, very limited crew space."

The new facility will have eight interior parking bays and additional spaces with electrical hook-ups for ambulances to park outside in emergency overflow situations.

The location, 2.2 acres being split out from an 8.6 parcel, is part of the Gateway II project on Call Parkway, just off of Oak Orchard Road.

Schutt said the new location will have no effect on response times.

There will also be expanded crew space, a meeting and training room.

The new location will also include a purchasing department that will house regional purchasing for Mercy Flight.

Also on Thursday's agenda:

  • The board recommended approval of two new commercial buildings on a parcel just north of Home Depot, abutting the Thruway, at 4181 Veterans Memorial Drive. The buildings will be a 12,600 square foot facility that will house medical offices and a 7,500 square foot building that will contain three spaces. Two will be restaurant spaces. The $1.2 million project is being undertaken by Holland Trotta out of Rochester.  A spokesman for the developer told planners that the large space was originally intended for a well-known local restaurant, but those plans changed. The signage on the architectural drawings in the planning board packet for the smaller building show an urgent care business and a Mexican chain restaurant, Qdoba Mexican Eats.
  • The board recommended approval of a conditional use permit for 17.4-acre, 2-megawatt solar farm at 2901 Pearl Street Road, Batavia. 
  • The board recommended approval of a nine-month moratorium on the planning and construction of solar farms in Stafford, giving officials time to review policies and zoning plans for such facilities.
  • The board recommended approval of a site plan review for a new 29,456 square foot paddock at Batavia Downs to be constructed on the east side of the race track. The previous paddock was removed to make room for construction of the new hotel. Currently, stables, are being used for paddock space. Paddocks are where horses and drivers are prepared for each race and return to after the race for washing and testing (winning horses are tested for banned substances, as required by the gaming commission). 
February 10, 2017 - 1:32pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in solar farms, batavia, news, business.

Two solar farm projects in the Town of Batavia were recommended for approval by the Genesee County Planning Board on Thursday night.

One project is at 3833 W. Main Street Road. It is an 11.6-acre project on a 83.5-acre parcel.  

The other is at 8169 Bank Street Road, Batavia. It is 11 acres on 93.3 acres.

Both projects are being developed by Forefront Power, formerly SunEdison, with Forefront agreeing to leases of 25 years with the property owners.

The projects are expected to produce enough electricity each to power the equivalent of 300 residential homes.

Timothy P. Ahrens, in charge of project development for Forefront, said the projects will help create additional renewable energy sources for the region.

The projects will be eligible for state and federal incentives to help offset the costs.

Planning Board members asked questions about what happens to the farm if it's ever decommissioned and Ahrens said part of the agreement with the landowners is to remove all of the infrastructure and return the land to its prior use.

Both lots are less-than-prime farmland.

Pending final approval by the Town of Batavia, Ahrens said Forefront hopes to begin construction by the fall.

February 8, 2017 - 8:47am
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.

July 19, 2016 - 1:01pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in solar farms, land use, solar energy, agriculture, news.

Local municipalities with farmland should consider whether they want to address the issue of a zoning code for solar farms, Genesee County Planning Director Felipe Oltramari told members of the Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board at last night's meeting.

There are a couple of companies who have approached local landowners, Oltramari said, and if towns in the area want solar farms within their borders, they need to address it with a zoning code change and then decide how to regulate the farms.

Towns that do nothing, that currently have no permitted use for solar farms, will be deciding by default not to allow solar farms in those jurisdictions, Oltramari said.

If a land use isn't expressly mentioned in the local zoning code than it is completely prohibited.

Only the Town of Batavia has created provisions for solar farms, and it's a pretty bare-bones code at this point, Oltramari said.

The Town of Batavia took the action after SunEdison approached a local landowner about building a solar farm. An attorney representing SunEdison attended a couple of town meetings, but there's been no apparent progress with SunEdison since then and currently SunEdison is going through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.

Since then, no other town has moved forward with solar farm zoning, but the Town of Oakfield is considering a solar farm on its land adjacent to its wastewater treatment plan and the Town of Alabama is considering a solar farm for the retired quarry in the town. 

"I think that’s a perfect use for that, too," Oltramari said.

The Town of Batavia is also looking into a solar farm on its former landfill.

The big issue for agricultural land, however, is that a solar farm would take the land out of crop production.

Agriculture average typically leases for about $60 a year and solar companies will pay $1,500 per acre per year for 20 years.

"This has alarmed farmers that rely on rented land for their operations," Oltramari said.

Companies looking to set up solar farms are typically looking for 20-acre parcels and they must be within two miles of a power substation.

Donn Branton, chairman of the Farmland Protection Board, thinks landowners should look carefully at any deal offered by a solar company.

"The frosting sounds pretty good, but the cake batter seems to get pretty messy," Branton said. 

There's a two-year planning process and the company decides what part of your farm it wants, he said, and then during construction they decide where the roads go.

"They pretty much have the run of your farm," he said. 

And taking the land out of production could cause it to be reclassified as commercial property rather than farmland, increasing the property tax rate. 

'It's something you want to investigate thoroughly with a legal service," Branton said. "$1,500 sounds great, but then you've got all the stipulations that go with it."

Oltramari recommended that towns -- and potentially landowners -- address issues such as preserving topsoil and herbicide use (in the event the land ever reverts to food production).

Zoning could also be used to limit the location and size of solar farms, buffer zones and visual screening.

Typically, in this area, solar companies are looking for 20-acre farms that produce two to four megawatts of energy.

One megawatt of solar energy could power 165 homes.

An energy generation facility (solar or wind) that produces more than 25 megawatts is exempt from local zoning laws, but such a farm in Western New York would need 125 to 200 acres of land, so Oltramari doesn't foresee such a farm coming to Genesee County.

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