Solar farm proposed

Representatives of Eden Renewables talk to area residents one-on-one during an open house at the former Pinebrook Golf Course in Gloversville on Wednesday about a proposed community solar farm at the site. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

GLOVERSVILLE — Representatives of Eden Renewables were on hand Wednesday at the Pine Brook Golf Course to answer questions and receive feedback from area residents during an open house on a community solar farm proposed for the site.

Eden Renewables, a Troy based developer of community solar farms, has proposed purchasing approximately 58 acres of the 150 acre former Pine Brook Golf Course located at 280 S. Main St. to construct a solar array with a capacity of 7.5 MWp capable of powering about 1,225 homes.

Project Development Manager Gillian Black explained that the city was selected as a possible location for a solar farm due primarily to the local energy capacity coupled with the existence of an appropriately sized site.

“When we look for projects we look for utility lines, distribution lines that have capacity,” Black said on Wednesday. “Once we find a line that works then we look for suitable properties that are ones that we could either lease or purchase that have enough acreage and are close enough to those distribution lines so that it’s not too costly to connect.”

As part of the project Eden Renewables would upgrade existing power lines as needed to support the solar energy that would be exported from the site and sold to National Grid, feeding the local power grid.

Following construction, city residents would be able to subscribe to the community solar farm to receive credits on their normal utility bill for the generated solar electricity, resulting in a reduction of up to 10 percent each month.

Subscriptions would be available to any National Grid customer, including homeowners, renters and small business owners. Subscription levels would be based off the annual energy consumption of each individual and would be available at no up-front cost by contacting Eden.

Anyone enrolled in the community solar program would continue to use electricity from the grid as per usual without having to install any equipment or contact National Grid.

The solar farm would be screened from sight with additional trees and shrubs planted along the existing boarder surrounding the former golf course.

“We do a visual analysis, we float balloons and look at all of the viewpoints to see where we need to put trees in for screening,” Black said. “This is a really well screened site except for a couple of locations, but we’ll have it all screened.”

Solar panels would be installed on roughly 32 to 35 acres at the center of the 58 acre site with a gap of 15 to 20 feet between each row of modules. The axis tracker solar panels are able to follow the path of the sun throughout the day from east to west and are approximately eight and a half feet tall. The site would be secured with a fence immediately surrounding the solar array and monitored with the use of closed-circuit television cameras.

During planning and construction Eden would seek to hire local individuals and firms to perform needed work. Following construction local landscapers would be utilized to maintain the property. No on site staff would be employed, with Eden performing routine maintenance at the site a few times a year or as needed.

In addition to producing cost saving energy, Eden attempts to provide surrounding communities with other environmental and social benefits through completed projects.

“Solar is a great opportunity to produce low cost green electricity locally, but it’s also a good opportunity to do all of these other things,” Black said. “To create a biodiverse area.”

At solar farm sites, Eden plants and maintains indigenous wildflowers throughout the area of the array that are pollinator friendly to bees and butterflies. The company also works with local beekeepers to bring hives to the site to pollinate the flowers.

“We work with established beekeepers as well as novices to coordinate and give them areas to put their beehives. The bees will actually fly a three and a half mile radius from the site so they help pollinate other areas outside of the city,” Black said.

In the fall Eden typically works with area farmers to have sheep brought to solar farm locations to graze, essentially mowing grass and foliage on the properties. The city site would also feature bird and bat boxes on the grounds which would feature a walking trail around the perimeter of the solar field.

“We’re going to keep a walking trail groomed around the site and we’re exploring some community agriculture here as well, potentially a community vegetable garden,” Black said. “That’s a new one for us, but we’re pretty excited about it.”

Area residents in attendance during the open house had a chance to speak with Eden representatives about the project one-on-one and were asked to fill out a brief questionnaire to provide feedback. Some residents voiced skepticism about the project and questioned whether siting a solar farm on South Main Street was the best land use for the city.

“This was a gem for the city at one time,” Robin Wentworth said, expressing concern over the property’s current unused state and the future prospects for the space located in a residential area.

Anne Desiderio was similarly concerned about the use of the property given the prominent location.

“It’s a bad sign,” Anne Desiderio said. “What do you do in the middle of Gloversville? You have a solar farm?”

With solar farms becoming more prevalent, Ralph Desiderio expressed openness to seeing the shuttered golf course property used to house an array.

“At least it’s not farmland,” he said.

But, Ralph Desiderio went on to voice skepticism over whether the solar array would generate a full 10 percent savings for subscribing residents and questioned the idea of solar panels as a clean energy source due to their electronic components.

“There’s still chemicals in it,” Ralph Desiderio said.

According to Black, the typical lifespan of solar technology is 25 to 35 years and after the technology is no longer useful Eden may repower a site with new technology or remove all of the hardware to be recycled. He noted that using property for a solar array causes little impact to land, with the only disturbance coming from stakes in the ground to support the array.

“It’s a 25 to 35 year asset and who knows what technology is going to be available down the road. An important thing we have here is the interconnection to the grid, so it’s very likely that the site would be repowered,” Black said.

Plans for the community solar farm at the former Pine Brook Golf Course are still in the early planning stages, but Black expressed optimism over the project that he estimated would be constructed in late 2020 at the earliest.

“We’re trying to create a community asset,” Black said. “We always run open houses early on in the permitting process so that we can hear from the community and let people know what we’re planning and hear how they feel about it so that we’re not just coming in and building something or pushing it through planning.”

Black said Eden has been in contact with city officials over the proposed project, but has not yet made any submission to the city Planning Board. He confirmed that the company is exploring how to approach the property that is in a residential zone, noting that the community aspect of the solar project may open certain options.

“We’re exploring our options right now and we’ve begun discussions with the city,” Black said. “We’re learning more and more about what we need to do.”

By Patricia Older

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