Solar farm project generates concerns

Pictured is the latest rendition of the proposed solar facility in the towns of Brasher, Norfolk and Massena. Provided image

CANTON — The Department of Environmental Conservation has weighed in on the proposed solar facility in the towns of Brasher, Norfolk and Massena, and the DEC listed several concerns in 25 pages of testimony before administrative law judges who were assigned to the project.

NextEra Energy Resources, through its subsidiary, North Side Energy Center, is proposing to develop, build, own and operate a solar facility that will produce 180 megawatts of power. It would have a construction period of about 12 to 14 months, starting in late 2022 and into 2023.

The 180-megawatt solar energy center will be located on land leased or purchased from private property owners in the towns of Brasher, Norfolk and Massena. Project components include commercial-scale solar arrays; access roads; buried, and possibly overhead, electric collection lines; a project collection substation; and electrical interconnection facilities.

The bulk of the project — 90% — will be located in Brasher.

During Thursday night’s meeting of the St. Lawrence County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board, County Planning Office Director Jason Pfotenhauer said he had been reviewing a depository of data regarding the project and among the DEC’s concerns was the amount of impacted wetlands.

He said the Department of Environmental Conservation had identified 600-plus acres of wetland that would be impacted by the project, while North Side Energy Center had identified 100-plus acres.

“One thing that is really interesting with this project is the impact that wetlands may have on it. There was some direct testimony that was made by DEC on Nov. 19, 25 pages of testimony. I want to just touch on a few interesting items from the DEC testimony because frankly it’s pretty damning of the applicant,” Mr. Pfotenhauer said.

He said a number of questions were asked during DEC’s testimony.

“The DEC identified 607 acres of wetland disturbance on the project. The applicant identified 151 acres. So there’s a discrepancy there between what the applicant considers wetlands and what the DEC considers wetlands,” he said.

Among the questions asked was, “Has the applicant demonstrated that impacts to all protected wetlands and adjacent areas cannot be avoided or minimized?”

“No, they have not done that,” DEC officials said.

Another question was, “In the event that the impact to the protected wetlands are satisfactory and it’s shown to be unavoidable and appropriately minimized, has the applicant demonstrated that these impact will be fully mitigated?”

“So, has the applicant shown that they’ve addressed the wetland situation on the property?” Mr. Pfotenhauer said. “The response there by DEC was, ‘No, they have not done that either.’”

A third question was, “Do the applicant’s proposed certificate conditions adequately capture all the department staff’s recommendations?”

“That’s DEC recommendations, and the response there was no by DEC,” he said. “So, what does this all mean? DEC is not happy with the project, and I think that’s evidenced by this testimony. They did not sign off on it, and there needs to be further action.”

Mr. Pfotenhauer said he received some correspondence on Thursday regarding the responses to the DEC.

“It was a response by the applicant saying, ‘Give us some more information. Give us some more time. We want to respond to some of this testimony.’ So, this is going to be protracted here with DEC. I don’t know how long it will be protracted, but there clearly is some disagreement and some discomfort with DEC for this project. Where it all goes, I don’t know. But, certainly the applicant is going to need to do a little bit more with that wetland mitigation for this project, I think, before there will be any resolution,” he said.

He said the applicant could leave it up to the state Siting Board to decide if the responses were adequate. The Siting Board consists of seven members, including two from the local area. The makeup of the board has not yet been determined, but will probably be decided in May or June, he said.

“Theoretically, the board could say, ‘You’ve done enough. We’re not as concerned about the wetlands as the DEC is. Move forward with the project,’” Mr. Pfotenhauer said.

Planner II Matilda Larson from the St. Lawrence County Planning Office said that, in addition to DEC’s concerns, the applicant had identified seven provisions in the certificate of conditions that have been submitted to the administrative law judge, which they felt are “unreasonably burdensome, and they don’t believe they should apply to the project.”

In Massena, the applicant identified concerns with the minimum setback from property lines, width of the access road, the decommissioning bond, and abandonment and removal requirements.

In Brasher, they said their concern was the town’s abandonment and decommissioning provisions. In Norfolk, their concerns were vegetation removal offset and decommissioning bond escalator.

“These are the local land use regulations that are in effect when it comes to siting this solar array,” Ms. Larson said.

Mr. Pfotenhauer said that, because of the concerns, the review time could be longer “and could have an impact ultimately on the project.”

He said there remains continuous testimony that can take place on the project for several more months.

“The goal is still sort of a next summer final approval,” he said.

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(1) comment


Lights out for this solar’project’

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