State readying mine property for 62,000 panels
By Gwendolyn Craig
The Adirondacks is one step closer to hosting the state’s first “build ready” solar project , about 62,000 panels generating 20 megawatts of energy to the grid, from the tailings pile of an old mine in the Town of Clifton. It’s enough solar panels to power about 4,500 homes, the state has said.
The Adirondack Park Agency passed the project unanimously on Thursday, with commissioners Art Lussi, Andrea Hogan and Joseph Zalewski absent. This is the second 20-megawatt solar project the APA has approved.
The project is 111.5 acres of solar panels enclosed within a chain-link fence on the tailings pile of the former Benson Mines. It is across the street from a former federal Superfund site where a million gallons of oil leached into the ground and Little River. It is also near National Grid’s Star Lake substation, and will hook up through underground connector lines. The agency’s jurisdiction was for a subdivision permit and solar facility permit. The project is also within 1/8 mile of a wilderness area, in this case, the Five Ponds Wilderness Area.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) proposed the project. The authority’s “build-ready” program prioritizes renewable energy projects on commercial sites, brownfields, former industrial sites and other underused areas that are also in proximity to the electrical grid. The authority does all the groundwork—permitting, lease agreements, decommissioning plans—and then creates a limited liability company. Once everything is in place, NYSERDA auctions off the project to a solar developer, who is then responsible for the lease, permits and plans.
“That’s the brilliance of this,” said Chris Cooper, counsel for the APA. By putting in all the assets, requirements, transfer of rights into the limited liability corporation, he said, the permits and their conditions and restrictions go with it.
NYSERDA has created an LLC for the Adirondacks project, but it has not yet gone to a public auction. The authority still needs local permits from the town and St. Lawrence County, as well as permits for building a road crossing, for state pollutant discharge and construction discharges.
Ariel Lynch, an environmental program specialist with the APA, said about five acres of mature forest will be cut to build the project, though the trees are spread out on the site. A buffer of trees and shrubs will surround the solar facility. The panels will not be visible from any public property, something Lynch said she thought was “amazing for a 20-megawatt facility.”
The state Department of Environmental Conservation had noted a population of pink shinleaf, a threatened flowering plant in New York, in the area of the project. Lynch said NYSERDA surveyed the property and did not find the flower in the location of where the panels will be installed. A document showing where the flowers were found was deemed confidential. Cooper said it was for the protection of the species.
Matthew Tebo, an APA commissioner and representative from the state Department of State, asked Lynch how much the decommissioning bond was and who was the bond holder. Lynch said that information is not specified in the plan, but the APA’s permits require that information to be provided.
Cooper said whatever solar developer purchases the LLC from NYSERDA will be holding the bond. The bond would be an estimate of what it would cost to remove the solar facility, and would account for inflation.
APA Commissioner Zoe Smith said she was shocked that there were no public comments submitted to the APA on the project, “given how huge it is and it’s in a small community that has been struggling with this site for decades.”
APA Commissioner Ken Lynch said he assumed the facility would not be close to the contamination in the vicinity, referencing the former J&L Steel Corp. The former federal Superfund site is north of where the array would go.
Ariel Lynch and Cooper said the contamination was not on the Benson Mines property.
“I think this is a perfect site,” Ken Lynch said.
Brad Austin, an APA commissioner and representative of the state Department of Economic Development, hailed the “build ready” program and said the solar panels were a great use of the property.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct a previous version, which said the Benson Mines solar project was the largest approved in the park. The APA approved a 20-megawatt solar project in Ticonderoga in 2021.