Gloversville Zoning Board of Appeals hires consulting firm for Eden solar farm case

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Four months after deciding in September to hire an expert firm to evaluate whether solar developers Eden Renewables application for a Public Utility Variance is complete, the Gloversville Zoning Board of Appeals voted 3-0 Tuesday night to hire Crawford & Associates Engineering & Land Surveying for a price not to exceed $10,000.

Now — due to the city’s Expert Expense Reimbursement Local Law passed by the Common Council in July — it’s up to Eden Renewables to decide whether or not it’s willing to pay for Crawford & Associates to give expert advice to the ZBA.

“We have to review it,” Eden Renewables project developer Gillian Black said after Tuesday’s meeting. “It should not take long for us to review it and, not having seen the [ZBA’s] request for a quote, we will first start by understanding what scope the city has requested review of, and then looking at the proposals it will be interesting to see ‘how,’ ‘what,’ ‘when,’ etc. We’ll give it a go through. It was helpful for them to clarify how the $10,000 … included everything, potentially.”

During the meeting the ZBA’s special legal counsel hired for the issue, Andrew J. Leja, assured Black and Eden’s attorney E. Hyde Clarke that Crawford & Associates will advise the board both on whether or not Eden’s application for a Public Utility Variance to build a $10 million, 32-acre and 7.5-megawatt solar farm on the site of the former Pine Brook Golf Club, is complete, and then on the merits of whether or not the ZBA should grant the Public Utility Variance. The Public Utility Variance has a different legal standard than the four-part legal test a property owner must prove to the ZBA in order to get a standard use variance.

If Crawford Associates advises the ZBA that Eden’s Public Utility Variance application is complete, the ZBA would then set a public hearing to decide on the merits of the application. Both steps would add at least an additional two months to the application process.

Eden Renewables application for a Public Utility Variance is based on the company’s belief that its solar project should be treated like an electricity generating utility that the public needs, and because it helps to further a New York state mandate requiring 6-gigawatts (GWs) of renewable energy generating capacity be installed into New York state’s electricity grid by 2025.

Wednesday marks the third year of Eden’s attempt to get local regulatory approvals to build the solar farm. a process Company officials have previously criticized the process as — by far — the most lengthy of any of the projects in its 75-megawatts of renewable power generation portfolio in New York state.

Black chose not to criticize the three-month period between when the board of appeals decided it would need an expert consultant and when it decided to choose Crawford Associates, located in Hudson, instead of the other potential firm — C.T. Male Associates Environmental & Civil Engineering in Johnstown.

“You might have caught me too close to Christmas, but I don’t like to think that they’re [delaying], at this point they’ve been waiting for proposals,” Black said. “My understanding is they’ve had the Crawford proposal for awhile, and it was [waiting for] C.T. Male’s proposal that slowed it down. We still contend this should be more of a legal expert’s purview, to determine whether it’s a Public Utility and we’re complete, but, no, I don’t feel they’re [delaying]. They were just waiting for the proposals to come in.”

During the meeting, Black told the ZBA that the typical amount his company might have to pay for an engineering firm consultant to complete a full engineering review in other jurisdictions is more like $3,500, so he was concerned about how many different tasks Crawford Associates might be able to charge for during its consulting work.

“And a $10,000 [upper limit] sounds a bit heavy,” he said. “That aside, my question is are their guardrails, or am I writing a blank check? Obviously it’s $10,000, but what keeps the scope from creeping?”

Leja told Black and Clarke, the company attorney, the “scope of services” laid out for Crawford Associates in the ZBA’s Request for Proposals makes it clear that the board expects the company to have the “manpower needed and the time available to be able to assist the board now, not six months from now.” He also said Eden would have the ability to contest any charges.

“If the applicant has comments along the way where you think something needs further analysis, or you think something has already been done, the board welcomes your comments,” Leja said.

“Great,” Clarke said.

Leja said the ZBA wants a “back-and-forth process.”

ZBA acting-Chairman David Esler made it clear that the time frame for Crawford to complete its work is not set.

“Some of that timing depends on what the board asks of them,” he said. “I can’t guarantee how long it will take to finish.”

By Jason Subik

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