After the Planning Board deemed that a proposed solar farm in the Town of Perth has the potential to be an eyesore for the community, the town is now accepting public comments that could impact the future of the project.
The Planning Board determined in August that Borrego Solar Systems’ proposed 15.1-acre, 5 megawatt (AC) solar facility along County Road 132 may have negative visual impacts and potentially harm the character of the surrounding rural, residential neighborhood. In response, Borrego, which did not return voicemail messages seeking comment, submitted a revised plan last month spelling out how it would mitigate concerns. Members of the public have until January 31 to comment, and the issue will be up for discussion at the next Planning Board meeting, scheduled for January 24 at 6 p.m.
Sean Geraghty, who is senior planner in the Fulton County Planning Department and a consultant for the Town of Perth’s board, said while the developers have been professional, detailed and forthcoming, the project faces an uphill battle due to the small size of the lot, which totals 19.8 acres. That size makes it difficult to set the solar panels back far enough to place them sufficiently out of view, especially with a subdivision less than 500 feet away, according to Geraghty. He said while solar panels on the site, at 341 County Road 132, would be set back about 100 feet, other solar farms in the county have panels set back by more than 10 times that distance.
“You’re still going to see the racking units and the panels themselves. It does not soften an appearance at 100 feet,” Geraghty said.
Ultimately, the eyesore potential is what led to the Planning Board’s decision to issue a “positive declaration” of significant adverse environmental impact, requiring Borrego to develop the draft scope now up for public comment, Geraghty explained.
“In our master plan it says we are going to support solar whenever we can. We think it’s good for everything – good for us, good for the planet – but there are going to be times when we have to take into consideration the adverse impacts that could result to an adjacent residential property owner,” Geraghty said. “This case is a classic example of that.”
Geraghty said positive declarations are relatively rare, occurring roughly 10% of the time. He said this is only the second such declaration he knows of in Fulton County, which has about two dozen solar projects. The other project to receive a positive declaration–a planned solar farm near the Fulton County Airport in Johnstown–has stalled as a result of the declaration, he said. However, Geraghty noted he wasn’t necessarily predicting the same fate for the Borrego project, which he said would be the fifth solar facility in the Town of Perth.
Borrego’s draft scope outlines a number of ways the developer plans to limit the impact of the solar farm on the community. The developer has proposed 12-foot perimeter fencing covered in mesh fabric and a landscaped berm. In addition, the developer would use pad-mounted utility cabinets instead of utility poles. It also created a decommissioning plan promising to restore the project to its vacant, undeveloped state at the end of the solar farm’s useful life, the draft scope outlines.
In addition, an access road will be moved to be more than 200 feet from residences, according to the plan. The developers also proposed grading on the northwestern portion of the site to minimize how well the solar panels can be seen from nearby homes.
The project calls for an entry gate, an equipment area, a small stormwater detention area and a 20-foot wide by 4-foot tall berm landscaped with a variety of 438 deciduous and coniferous trees, 160 of which will measure 12 feet in height at planting and will range from 25 feet to 40 feet at maturity, according to the draft scope.
Town of Perth Supervisor Gregory Fagan said the process will play itself out, but the potential for visual disruption as a result of the solar farm may simply be too much to overcome.
“The biggest thing is the impact on the neighborhood, and it’s got to work through the process now,” he said. “By doing the positive declaration, that puts the onus back on the applicant to do their due diligence and see what comes out in the end.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.