Straw vote says no to Schoharie solar


By Patsy Nicosia

In a 3-2 straw vote--but likely the final decision—the Town of Schoharie ruled against the Bliss Road solar project Wednesday.
Attorney David Brennan will summarize the Town Board’s questions and concerns for a formal vote at the April 14 meeting.
Mr. Brennan led Supervisor Alan Tavenner and councilmen through a review of the issues raised and addressed since the two-megawatt project—downsized along the way--was first proposed two years ago, using SEQRA and the town’s Comprehensive Plan and Solar Law as a framework.
It was no surprise that visibility and whether the project was consistent with community character were their biggest concerns.
“I’m not convinced a project this size is in keeping with our rural character,” said Councilman Matt Brisley.
Councilman Floyd Guernsey said that wasn’t the point.
“I think they met all of the criteria in every single aspect,” he said, arguing that the special use permit should be granted. “They went above and beyond.”
Voting to deny the special use permit were Mr. Brisley, Councilman Ben Oevering, and Mr. Tavenner.
Voting to grant it were Mr. Guernsey and Councilman Cody Cooper.
No public comment was allowed at the meeting, moved to the Schoharie Fire House because of the expected crowd.
Fewer than 20 people showed up, however.
None of those who organized against the project, concerned about its impact on their view and businesses, celebrated Wednesday’s decision.
“It’s a win-win, but it’s a lose-lose too,” said neighbor Marion Jaqueway. “It was never anything personal. It just didn’t belong.”
Working through the SEQRA questions, councilmen expressed concern over the possible deterioration of the project’s solar panels and the impact on groundwater.
“It seems like most of the panels are not made in the US and that remains a concern to me,” Mr. Tavenner said—especially since the panels initially proposed have been replaced with panels with a lower environmental rating.
“It seems like the target is always moving,” Mr. Brisley added.
Councilmen also questioned the validity of Borrego Solar’s visual simulations and who will see the panels and from where; drivers might not even notice them, they said, but those living across the Valley would.
“It looks small to some and huge to others,” Mr. Tavenner said. “I think it’s too big. Anything that big, you can’t hide it.”
In the end, the decision focused mostly on that visibility and whether the Bliss Road project was consistent with community character and the Comprehensive Plan.
Mr. Oevering pointed out there are multiple places in the Comprehensive Plan that talk about preserving the town’s rural character; the solar law, he said, stresses the need for projects to be in line with the Comprehensive Plan.
“So there are definitely some concerns,” he said.
Mr. Brennan told councilmen they had three options; deny or grant the SUP or grant it with conditions.
Or they could wait.
Mr. Guernsey said they should wait.
Mr. Tavenner said the consensus seemed to be that there were no conditions they could attach to the SUP that would resolve their concerns; Mr. Oevering said he believed they had enough information to decide.
Mr. Brennan’s documentation of the meeting is in part in case the decision is challenged in court, he said.