An under-used parcel of land could give Lewis County an opportunity to expand its involvement with renewable energy.

The county entered into an agreement with the New York Power Authority to consider using land near the Solid Waste & Recycling Facility for a solar project. This would be the second such venture in Lewis County as a solar array on Outer Stowe Street in Lowville began operating in 2019.

“The property adjacent to the county Solid Waste Facility at 7952 Route 26 not currently in use will be analyzed for solar suitability by the [New York Power Authority] through the Community Solar and Battery Storage program introduced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in February. According to county Planning Director Casandra Buell, the program is designed to work with municipalities on creating ready-made sites for small-scale solar projects in the same way former brownfield, industrial and landfill sites are being prepped around the state for large-scale projects through the 94-C siting process that went into effect this year, replacing Article 10,” an article published May 15 by the Watertown Daily Times reported.

County officials were wise to reach out to NYPA to see if this land could be used in this way. It would enhance the benefits of the solar array created two years ago — financially as well as environmentally.

“This [would be a] community solar facility, so the county would have the ability to receive monthly lease payments for the property to be used for solar. And on top of that, we would have access to up to 60% of the energy produced from that solar farm. That’s amazing. We can have the best of both worlds,” Buell said, according to the Times story. “We can have that energy localized, and we would have a revenue stream coming in for the use of the land.”

This proposed solar project could result in the county keeping all the solar energy it generates. The article reported: “Although 60% of the power produced would be used to defray the remainder of the county and hospital energy expenses not covered by the existing solar array, local residents will also be able to sign up to tap into the remaining 40% of the energy, making it possible to keep 100% of the energy benefit local, Mrs. Buell said.”

But first, the land near the Solid Waste & Recycling Facility must be assessed to see if it can be used for a solar project.

“The parcel being considered consists of a total of 21.2 acres not including the waste facility, according to online property records. Exactly how much of the land will be suitable for solar panels once the wetlands and other unusable sections of the property are removed from consideration has not yet been determined, Mrs. Buell said, creating some challenges,” according to the story. “As an example, Mrs. Buell said the wetlands will require permitting through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Local zoning laws for the town of Lowville which houses the parcel, could also pose an obstacle because the relative statute may require an area variance with larger ‘lot coverage’ than the property has, she said.”

Officials have some work ahead of them. One of these tasks is to gauge public opinion on the plan. Residents must have a voice in this process.

But if the land is usable and residents approve, this could be a rewarding proposal for Lewis County. We commend authorities for looking out for the region’s future by taking this idea into consideration.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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