Sharon planners get first look at solar farm


By Patsy Nicosia

Sharon Springs' Joint Planning Board got its first look at a 15-acre commercial-scale solar farm being proposed for Route 20 Wednesday.
The project, which would be located at Empie Road and Route 20, across from the old Belvedere, will require a special use permit, but was largely designed with the town's commercial solar law in mind, said Robert Collier, project manager for developer One Energy Renewables.
A public hearing on the project will be held at the JPB's Wednesday, September 21 meeting.
Construction, which would be done by Onyx Renewables, could begin as soon as spring, Mr. Collier said.
Wednesday, he took planners through the proposed project.
The site, a 70 acre parcel of former farmland owned by Westley and Joyce Hayes, who also list a Brooklyn address, fits nicely with the project, Mr. Collier said.
And that's not as easy to find as you might think," he said. "It was very intentionally selected."
The site be screened easily to Route 20 travelers from the east-not so much from the west-has overhead utility lines, and is just a couple of miles away from a National Grid substation, Mr. Collier said.
One Energy Renewables, which handles everything from negotiating from landowners to getting project approval, is based in Seattle, Washington, but has a number of projects on the East Coast, including one in Geneva that will be selling all of its power to Ithaca College.
Onyx Renewables, which is based in New York, will handle construction and operation the facility and is just a couple of weeks away from cutting the ribbon on a commercial solar farm in Clifton Park, said Onyx's Josh Katz.
The Empie Road project is on the small side for One Energy, Mr. Collier said, but still, will include 8,000-9,000 three-foot-by-six-foot stationary solar panels on a racking system-frames.
The site will be fenced and possibly landscaped, depending on what the JPB and the Town of Sharon request.
Access to the site will be on Empie Road and the grass-will be mowed as needed about twice a summer.
Contrary to public opinion, Mr. Collier said, grass does grow under the panels.
Town law requires solar installations to be removed at the end of their life and Mr. Collier said the 108 Empie Road site is designed with no concrete for easy removal.
One Energy has signed a 26-year lease with the option of a 10-year extension, he said, and will be seeking a PILOT-payment in lieu of taxes; under town law, the PILOT will be based on the project's assessed value, not just the value of the land.
The town will benefit from the project through the PILOT, Mr. Collier said, as well as from local spending by crews during the 3-6 month construction.
Planners had only a few questions for Mr. Collier and pointed out that Empie Road may need to be improved for construction traffic.
Mr. Collier is expected to present a project again at the town's September 7 meeting; the town is lead agency for the project.