MINETTO — Concerned residents in Minetto gathered at the town hall Tuesday night hoping representatives from an energy company and town officials would shed some light on a proposed solar farm off of Route 48.
The Albany-based Cipriani Energy Group came back before the Minetto Zoning Board of Appeals, almost one year since its last appearance, to discuss plans to install a 4.5 megawatt solar farm off of the 2900 block of Route 48 in Minetto, a residential area. A driveway would be installed on the right side of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help church.
The land that is currently being proposed for the farm sits vacant with vegetation. Residents explained it is a key area for wildlife, and even has an eagle population. Cipriani Chief Operating Officer Chris Stroud said it is most likely going to be purchased from a local landowner, who has already been approached by Cipriani for the project.
Residents were treated to an extensive presentation given by Cipriani solar developer Megan Zimba, Bergmann engineer Eric Redding and Stroud. The floor was opened for questions from the public following the presentation, which came equipped with a map with sketches of the area proposed for the solar farm.
Cipriani’s solar farm is proposed to have two arrays, which consist of a “couple thousand” silicone bifacial solar panels. The panels will absorb energy from sunlight reflected on the ground, as well as from above and can spin to follow the direction of the sunlight, Stroud explained during the presentation.
The panels will be supported by steel beams, which Redding said are able to be recycled at the end of the farm’s 25-year life span, after which, Stroud said, the farm will be completely decommissioned by Cipriani. Silicone panels, depending on their abilities after 25 years, can be repurposed or possibly landfilled, Stroud said.
A municipality would be given a decommissioning fund either through a bond or escrow that covers the current cost of the plant today that would still be able to be used, even in the event Cipriani goes bankrupt or is bought by another company.
For the past three years, talk of the solar farm has made its way through the community of Minetto, sparking much concern among residents, especially those who live close by, or quite literally, just across the street from where the farm would be built.
Concerns ranged from the long-term effects of such a project, environmental impact and any disturbance it could cause to locals over the course of its construction and life span. Residents even went as far as to question whether or not Minetto was truly the right place for such a project, considering its location near single-family homes, churches and private space utilized by the public.
A resident had asked how the company plans to protect wildlife in the areas of the solar farm. Stroud mentioned plans would be in place to make sure animals wouldn’t be harmed by fencing planned to surround the farm.
“We do environmental studies, projects, rapid endangered species surveys,” Stroud said. “We put the fence eight inches above the ground so the small mammals can travel underneath it.”
Additionally, Stroud said the fences are designed to be about six or seven feet tall, which he said a deer can clear without too much difficulty. He cited other projects Cipriani did where stipulations where set, requiring the company to “mow” with sheep or alpacas, create an apiary and to leave roots in place for faster forest regrowth after the farm has been decommissioned.
Many also worried about the traffic impact during construction to transport parts and take lumber off of the site and the possibility of truck drivers going down a road that is otherwise 20 miles per hour. One resident explained families, animals and people partaking in outdoor recreation could be at risk of being involved in devastating traffic accidents.
“We generally, when we’re loading or offloading, we have folks in vests and they are stopping traffic, “ Stroud said. “We generally provide turn around areas on our project sites where the trucks the trucks are not backing on to the highways.”
A resident asked, “If a truck driver is speeding down the road, who do we talk to?” Stroud replied he would take the calls for problematic drivers.
However, residents were not fully convinced Minetto was the right spot for a solar farm, as many of Cipriani’s other projects were not placed as closely to a residential zone and were more spread out, which raised concerns about the direct impact it could have on the well-being of the surrounding neighborhoods.
“I’ve looked at separate constructions that (Cipriani has) through the state. It’s very nice, but those arrays are not built right next to municipalities or right in between a residential community, they’re spread out into rural areas,” Minetto resident Mike Segretto said. “This is a residential community. You do this project and we’re done.”
Redding said Cipriani would leave a 300-foot buffer of trees between the houses and the site to “screen” it and to hide it as much as possible, which he explained was common practice for all projects.
Stroud also chimed in to stress what little impact he said the project would have otherwise. He said traffic would not increase. Maintenance on the site would only need to be done twice a year, it doesn’t generate wastewater and doesn’t require police or fire protection.
Zoning Board member Heidi Sharkey, the newest member to the board, mentioned a long-term impact and questioned what sort of issues and consequences would materialize 25 years after the fact, once the project had been decommissioned. She mentioned none of Cipriani’s projects have been removed yet anywhere else in the state, so there is no track record to say what impacts will be felt.
“To just suggest that you’re going to go in and pull stuff out, and then somehow, it’s going to miraculously be beautiful again,” Sharkey said. “You’re asking us not only to allow this or be part of this, but to essentially support it in regards to saying 25 to 30 years from now, (Cipriani is) going to pull everything out and everything will go back to normal. To be realistic, it’s not just going to go back to normal.”
Sharkey asked to see a specific company that has put money into a town that has been able to decommission its solar farm. Stroud said he would look into it.
“While we’re projecting for the future here, it’s very important to continue to ask what kinds of questions that all of you are asking,” one resident said. “My hope is that this is something that will continue after this evening, so that in the end, the zoning board, the planning board and the town board are not blamed for something that happens here. So let’s take our time.”
Plans for the farm have been on the back burner, with a meeting not having been held since Dec. 14, 2021. Past town hall minutes show Cipriani requested interpretation to zoning ordinances during meetings last year in July and August so the energy company could begin applying for a building permit.
Since then, the town of Minetto has made changes to its zoning ordinances, which now defines the term “public utility” and creates a section for in the ordinances concerning solar farms.
After a nearly two-hour meeting, coupled with one five-minute recess, zoning board members adjourned. Zoning Board Chairman Ed Collins said another public meeting date will be set to continue discussions on the solar farm. He also said about three to five additional meetings, including a public hearing, could be expected in the future.
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