Sharon solar: Experts say state wants to hear from locals


By Patsy Nicosia

When it comes to ruling on projects like the 785-acre, 50 megawatt solar project proposed for the Town of Sharon, the state Public Service Commission and Siting Board will look closely at local regulations.
That’s according to Whiteman Osterman & Hanna attorney Teressa Bakner, one of the consultants the Town of Sharon has agreed to hire if the NextEra Energy project goes forward.
Ms. Bakner and Ryan Weitz, an engineer with Barton & Loguidice, ran through the PSC’s Article 10 permitting process for Supervisor Sandra Manko, councilmen, and proposed members of the Siting Board Wednesday.
The project, which would be built along Route 10 near Beech, Parsons, and Sharon Hill Roads, is at the pre-application stage.
Article 10 is a state review and permitting process that comes into play for energy projects larger than 50 megawatts.
It’s intended as a way for municipalities to participate in the review process, Ms. Bakner said, and it also gives them access to the intervenor funds—essentially an escrow account—that developers are required to put up for consultants as a way to see “that local views are carried through.”
Under Article 10, once NextEra Energy files a Preliminary Scoping Statement, $17,500 becomes available in intervenor funds, Mr. Weitz said.
If the project goes to the next stage, there will be an additional $50,000 for consultants.
Both figures are based on the size of the project, Mr. Weitz said.
Ms. Manko reached out to Ms. Bakner and Mr. Weitz as a way to get ahead of what’s likely to be a years-long study and approval process.
Their firms are already working with the Towns of Canajoharie and Minden in Montgomery County on an even larger solar project proposed by different developers there.
The two plus Sharon’s are the first three solar projects to go through Article 10.
Once the PSS is filed, Mr. Weitz said, the town has 21 days to comment.
After that, the intervenor funds become available; non-governmental organizations and other groups could also file for a share of that money, Ms. Bakner said.
Though there’s a concern that the town’s existing solar law will be ignored when the appointed Siting Board considers the solar farm, Ms. Bakner said the PSC has been requiring energy projects to comply with local laws—or formally apply for variances—when seeking approval.
“They’re really trying to get local views [on a project], especially when there’s a reasonable law in place like yours,” Ms. Bakner said.
In Canajoharie and Minden, Ms. Bakner said, local concerns have focused on the project’s impact on roads, on its immediate visual impact, and on what happens when it’s eventually decommissioned.
“It’s a very long process that occurs before the Siting Board,” she said.
And “it’s actually a very good process. It keeps everyone informed…” with Administrative Law meetings and hearings held locally as needed.
Ms. Bakner said the two firms will work within the town’s invervenor funds.
She also said not all projects go forward.
The town voted to retain the two firms if the NextEra Energy project goes forward.