MALONE — The proposed creation of a 900-acre solar farm prompted the Town Board on Wednesday to approve a three-month moratorium on the development of such projects. The delay –– which is similar to one adopted by the town of Bellmont earlier this year –– is intended to give board members time to research a possible local law regulating solar energy projects in the town.
The decision came after representatives from Geronimo Energy, a Minneapolis-based solar and wind energy company with an office in Syracuse, proposed the project to the board, suggesting that it could be “the largest east of the Mississippi.”
The farm would cost the company $165 million and would occupy 900 acres –– roughly 1.5 square miles –– south of the village in the vicinity of State Routes 11B and 30. If approved, construction is slated to begin by spring of 2020.
Geronimo representative Eric Will stated that the company is “particularly excited about Malone” due to the amount of open land that could facilitate the project.
Will noted that the land in question would be leased “for an extended period of time” likely in the range of 25 years, noting that solar panels degrade and the farm would likely be dismantled “way down the road.”
Town officials were responsive but skeptical of the project, questioning the benefits and consequences it would have in Malone.
If approved, construction of the project would create roughly 300 short-term jobs, with preference given to local companies.
Six full-time jobs would be created for the lifetime of the project, largely devoted to maintenance of the facility and its equipment.
The project would create “no tangible effect” on energy costs in Malone, according to Will. The energy created would be sold to power companies through the National Grid Malone interconnection.
Town officials stressed that their cautious approach to the proposal was not an indication they disapproved of the idea.
“It’s not that we’re against solar,” said Councilor Mary Scharf, noting the town’s other green energy initiatives, including existing solar panels on the roof of a hanger at the Malone-Dufort Airport to help reduce the town’s electric bill.
Councilors were also skeptical about Geronimo’s plan to seek a PILOT agreement, which would provide payments in lieu of property taxes on the land used.
Similar energy projects, including the Jericho Rise wind farm in the towns of Bellmont and Chateaugay, have also carried host community payments, in addition to PILOTs.
Town Supervisor Howard Maneely said he had heard “horror stories” of people coaxed into leaving their homes when wind projects were installed elsewhere the county. Will described solar energy as a “completely different animal” from wind, and asserted that it is “the culture of the company” to be respectful of land and landowners.
Will stressed that the company intends to speak directly with landowners and become “a real part of the community” while the project exists. “We’re here to stay,” he added.
Geronimo would also implement landscaping measures and plant trees to retain the aesthetics of the area used.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Will.
Currently the Town of Malone has no laws related to solar energy, and Town Board members insisted they be given time to research and draft a new local law.
“We’re still learning,” Maneely said.
Currently all operational Geronimo projects are located in the Midwest, though Will stated that they have spoken to other municipalities in New York state.
Geronimo energy has filed paperwork for one additional project in the state –– Saugerties Solar, a smaller 20-megawatt project in Ulster County.
Officials in the town of Bellmont have approved a six-month moratorium on issuing permits for solar arrays in recent months, citing their experiences with the Jericho Rise wind farm.
“We don’t want to have happen what happened with the wind,” Bellmont Supervisor Bruce Russell said at a June meeting during which the moratorium proposal was discussed. “A moratorium buys time ... to develop a full law.”
Town of Chateaugay officials are also considering a solar farm moratorium.