APA approves 20 MW solar project amid planning discussion
By Gwendolyn Craig
The Adirondack Park Agency has approved one of its largest solar project applications yet–20-megawatts generated by 46,000 panels on approximately 100 acres in the town of Ticonderoga. The project also involves building an underground alternating current line running underneath wetlands and the build of a new transformer station to connect to National Grid.
The APA board approved the project during its virtual meeting on Thursday, with members Ken Lynch and Joseph Zalewski absent during the final vote.
The project adds to a growing list of both approved and proposed solar systems in Ticonderoga; there are six complete and incomplete applications in that town alone. The APA has a total of 13 applications moving through the approval process. Four projects, including this latest one, have been approved by the board.
Staff prefaced Thursday’s board vote with a presentation on where solar projects are cropping up in the park.
Matthew Kendall, an environmental program specialist with the APA, said the 17 projects reviewed or under review account for a total of 164 mega-watts on about 980 fenced acres. That’s about 0.03% of all the private lands in the park, Kendall said.
Jerry Delaney, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, said later in the meeting that percentage did not give the whole picture. Not all the private land in the park would be developeable, like water bodies, steep slopes or land already built out, he said. APA staff did not show any information on where solar projects were most likely to be built in the park, he also noted.
Of the permits issued so far, Kendall showed that nearly all are in agricultural fields. Some applications coming down the pike, however, are in wooded areas. Kendall also noted that about half of the 17 projects were in municipalities that have zoning for commercial-scale solar, while the other half had none.
The big picture
Daniel Kelleher, special assistant for economic affairs at the APA, addressed concerns some board members had at a July meeting about longer-range planning for solar projects in the park. Kelleher said under the APA’s rules and regulations, the agency doesn’t have the authority to regulate the planning of projects. Under the APA Act, Kelleher said, the agency considers whether a project has an undue adverse impact on things like water quality, wetlands, forest and open space resources.
Kelleher also presented what some board members thought was an eye-opening slide about the potential scale of solar projects in the park and their carbon benefits. To serve the Adirondack Park’s 131,000 year-round residents, Kelleher said, the park would need to generate between 223-312 mega-watts of electricity. That equates to between 1,560 to 2,183 acres of fenced solar.
Andrea Hogan, board member and Johnsburg town supervisor, said with all the projects proposed and approved before the APA so far, the park is about halfway to reaching those numbers.
“That’s like something significant to me,” Hogan said. “The bigger question really is, what’s appropriate within the park in terms of volume of solar.”
The state’s renewable energy goals include 6,000 mega-watts of solar by 2025, Kellher said, with no spatial allocation of where it goes.
Chris Cooper, counsel for the APA, said the agency doesn’t have jurisdiction over the limits or amount of solar. The APA, he continued to stress, can only review the projects before it. Executive Director Terry Martino said the APA’s solar application is a practical tool but other issues relate to the whole state and not just the park.
Board member Zoë Smith said she had read local government officials are interested in getting more support from the agency on farmland protection, zoning and feasibility studies.
Ken Lynch, who was present earlier in the meeting, asked if the agency could encourage or incentivize solar in certain areas of the park and discourage it in other areas.
Martino said any kind of incentive tool would require a legislative change to how the agency works.
The latest project
The 20-megawatt project in Ticonderoga will go up in the area of Veterans Road and state Route 9N. The new transformer station would go up on Route 9N.
Ariel Lynch, project review officer for the APA, said the panels will have a maximum height of about 8 ½ feet. The panels will move throughout the day to track the sun. The panels will be visible on Route 9N and from Veterans Road and Mount Defiance. Lynch’s presentation included photos of existing conditions and renderings of panels on site.
The town of Ticonderoga has been at the forefront of updating its zoning for commercial solar. It incorporated a bond security with the solar project’s decommissioning plan. Lynch said the amount the town would hold onto for that was about $318,500.
The majority of comments submitted on the project were in favor of it. Part of the property used to be an apple orchard. The soils are contaminated with pesticides and several metals, according to February tests submitted to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Levels of arsenic exceeded the state’s thresholds for commercial and industrial uses. The solar developer will follow the DEC’s solid waste regulations for soil excavation but keep the soils on site, Lynch said.
After approving the project, some board members said they were “uncomfortable” about a lack of planning for solar.
“I don’t want to look back in five years, 10 years, and say, ‘Oh we should have, we could have, but we didn’t,’” said Mark Hall, a board member.