Scenic Hudson’s mapping system could be applied to Adirondacks
By Gwendolyn Craig
Hudson Valley nonprofit, Scenic Hudson, has built a mapping tool to help municipalities with siting large-scale solar projects. The tool could help the Adirondack Park Agency as it grapples with an influx of solar applications.
The tool was discussed at the APA’s July board meeting, introduced to commissioners by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. NYSERDA’s Jennifer Manierre, of the clean energy siting branch, and Tracy Darougar, of the build-ready program, provided the APA resources and guidance on solar projects in a presentation.
Scenic Hudson’s siting technique uses geographic information systems, a kind of digital mapping technology. It includes layers like local towns’ zoning, agricultural districts, proximity to transmission lines and utilities’ hosting capacity.
Check out Scenic Hudson’s solar mapping tool at: https://www.scenichudson.org/our-work/climate/renewable-energy/welcome-to-scenic-hudsons-solar-mapping-tool/.
The result helps developers and local governments see prime locations for solar arrays and estimate the amount of power that the existing infrastructure can handle. While the map focuses on the Hudson Valley, some of the layers are statewide, like the utilities’ hosting capacity and where the transmission lines are located. All of the data are publicly available, and some of it is live-streamed so that the map is automatically updated.
“It’s a great tool for planning,” Darouga said.
APA Chairman John Ernst suggested the agency could do something similar for the park.
“I would like to see that,” Ernst said. “I don’t know how difficult that is to extract from the Scenic Hudson map.”
That’s exactly what Scenic Hudson staff would like to see happen, and they don’t think it would be difficult for the APA to do. The nonprofit intended for a state agency or any other group to replicate its process and use it locally. Hayley Carlock, Scenic Hudson’s director of environmental advocacy and legal affairs, said the organization saw “this void in having tools like this” and got to work in 2019. Funding came from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
The state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act passed in 2019 recommends the creation of such a tool. Carlock said Scenic Hudson offers a blueprint for NYSERDA or any other public agency or nonprofit to recreate the tool.
It’s already getting replicated in communities outside the Hudson Valley. Alex Wolf, conservation scientist at Scenic Hudson, said the town of Cazenovia in Madison County was an early adopter. Working with the Cazenovia Preservation Foundation, the town used nearly all the same mapping layers in Scenic Hudson’s tool. They added their own on top, including the town’s zoning. The result was a map that showed suitable sites for solar projects locally.
APA commissioners for years have been considering how to balance protection of rare agricultural land in the park, natural vistas and wetlands when approving large-scale solar projects. Carlock said communities across the state are facing similar kinds of pressures to consider land conservation, community values and renewable energy.
“Our goal here was definitely not to be a tool to help people say ‘no’ to solar, but to say ‘yes’ and find the right places,” Carlock said.