WATERTOWN — A Quebec company has thrown its hat in the ring of proposed solar farms with a project that may have taken the top spot for the largest one in Jefferson County.
Boralex Inc., Kingsey Falls, Quebec, plans to erect a 120-megawatt facility with panels and other components spanning up to 2,031 acres southeast of the Watertown International Airport, southwest of the city and west of Interstate 81. The prospective project, named Greens Corners Solar, barely surpasses the commercial facility’s 119-megawatt project south of LaFargeville proposed by EDF Renewables, which developed the Copenhagen Wind Farm, and exceeds the 100-megawatt solar farm in the towns of Lyme and Brownville proposed by Geronimo Energy, which is owned by National Grid.
The Quebec developer took the initial step toward obtaining a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need through the state Article 10 review process by submitting a Public Involvement Program plan in July, and a revised one on Sept. 13. Companies with projects with a nameplate capacity of 25 megawatts or more must receive certificates from the state Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment.
According to Boralex’s revised plan, the solar farm, which would spread across the towns of Watertown and Hounsfield, is expected to generate enough electricity to power 30,000 households at about 274 gigawatt-hours each year. The developer expects to hire the workforce equivalent of 2.5 full-time employees to manage and maintain the solar farm, and hire about 100 temporary workers for construction.
Boralex representatives have already met with officials from the towns of Watertown and Hounsfield in April and May, respectively, to introduce themselves and the project, according to the company’s plan. Hounsfield Town Supervisor Timothy W. Scee, an outspoken supporter of large-scale renewable energy projects such as the Galloo Island Wind project, said he awaits further details and action from Boralex, but believes it could benefit the town through a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement. The town adopted a solar law, which includes regulations for commercial solar development, in 2017.
“We’re in agreement with solar development in our town,” he said. “This will be an important piece of that goal of renewable energy in our town.”
Boralex has been seeking land lease agreements with property owners in both towns, and one who signed one with the developer was local farmer Ronald C. Robbins.
Mr. Robbins, owner of North Harbor Dairy in Hounsfield, said he leased 900 acres of tillable land in Watertown and Hounsfield adjacent to Michael E. Lundy’s upcoming Thousand Islands International Agribusiness Park on Route 3, with the option to use up to 1,200 acres.
Farmers like Mr. Robbins having been dealing with poor milk price margins, or the difference between cost of production versus revenue, for five years, worsening margins in cash crops like soybeans due to recent tariffs and the rising cost of business in New York, he said. Mr. Robbins had positive margins for his milk in the past few months.
The local farmer said he decided to lease land to the Canadian developer to diversify his revenue sources, which would help sustain his operation for years to come.
The state allocated more than $1.8 million so the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust can establish a conservation easement on 1,309 acres of Mr. Robbin’s farmland in 2016, but he said he has since rejected the funding and easement, allowing him to lease land to Boralex.
“I want to make sure of the future of our farm operation, and having a diversified income from a solar lease” helps, he said.
Boralex operates 1,980 megawatts of wind, solar, hydroelectric and Biomass facilities in the U.S., Canada and France. According to its plan, the company has already secured 62 megawatts of power purchase agreements with National Grid, and aims to secure one from the state Energy and Research Development Authority.
“The Boralex folks are awesome people, and I really enjoy working with them,” Mr. Robbins said. “I think they’ll be a great addition to have to do business with in Jefferson County.”