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Blooming Grove Considers Several New Community Solar Projects & Code Changes

At its August Workshop, the Town of Blooming Grove heard a presentation by Jackie Basile, Director of Development and Olivia Feldman, Development Manager at Lightstar Renewables Community Solar. This Community Solar Project is proposed for Prospect Road on a former Superfund site known as the Mayer Landfill. After hearing the presentation the Town Board discussed some criteria in current code that they have been reviewing with Planner Bonnie Franson related to how today's changes in solar technology make it feasible to increase the megawatt voltage the system processes from 2 to 5MG (megawatts) , consistent with other new solar projects in New York. This basically means that this type of setup (more panels, some of which move during the day to capture maximum sunlight) creates more energy per square foot of site space and therefore can supply the same amount on less acreage. The Town's current code also restricts the amount of acreage to 20, while this plan is designed for 44 acres. They seek relief from that restriction given that the site is within hundreds of acres of forest, and will only be seen minimally on a sharp curve where the Orange & Rockland large transfer poles go East and West with a goal of essentially no visual impact. The project will not add any more poles other than one dropline to upload the additional megawatts. It is within 103.8 acres of the larger site, also primarily forested and where, because of DEC restrictions on the former Superfund site, no other commercial or housing project could be built. While the project is designed to also have significant panels where the site borders Peddler Hill Rd., the planned buffer includes 75 ft. of landscaping along its border, including evergreens. The project is also unique because of its other environmental goals which include planting of native pollinator grasses and flowers. It also includes "Wildlife-friendly fencing." The entrance would be at the existing Mayer Landfill entrance just efore the sharp left curve.

The other distinguishing characteristic is that because of previous toxicity from being a trash dump and possibly including some disposed oil, Lightstar's plan would set the panels in the capped area on concrete blocks with ballasts, and that group of panels will not be moveable synched to sunlight.

Supervisor Rob Jeroloman questioned how safe the structures would be during high wind and snowstorms. Project Engineer, Dan Biggs of Weston & Sampson, said that this system has been used on Superfund sites elsewhere with success, and has been fully tested for rain and snow loading. One other code concern that they would need relief from is the restriction on having solar farms within Ridgeline Overlay Districts. The Town is currently revising that as well as other sections of code since it is somewhat arbitrary regarding Ridgeline elevation measuring. When the code was first written, designation of an overlay district was determined by map elevations, thinking that the higher elevations would have more visibility. That is often but not always the case. In this, and in another solar project being proposed, that restriction is rather a moot point, they said, since it will not be visible from any elevation in the area other than the O&R pole lines.

Olivia Feldman of Lightstar Renewables

Olivia Feldman pointed out the additional benefits of Community Solar, which provides cost benefits to electric users and tax benefits for municipalities via PILOT programs, as well as lessening greenhouse gas pollution.

Lightstar has an emphasis on other earth benefits as well. They plan on maintaining existing vegetative buffers along a 200 foot buffer line, and panel height limited to 20 ft.. There will be limited grading to access roads and no installation of panels in areas that would require grading, this to prevent any disturbance of possible remaining subsurface landfill toxicity. With Board members Chuck Quick and Mayor Tom DeVinko's remaining concerns of visual impact, they requested a visual impact balloon study, especially to relieve concerns that residents might have along Peddler Hill Road. Tree clearing will be limited as much as possible, and limited mostly to shrub/scrub vegetation.

This land is still owned by the Mayer farmily and would be used by Lightstar on a Lease basis. They expect the life of the project to 25 to 30 years. Thus, it offers a source of income to landowners of property which cannot otherwise be built on, along with a savings on the cost of eletricity to anyone in the O&R Grid who requests it on the O&R website.

The Parcel Area is 103.8 acres, only 44 acres of which would be used for the project.

With the Town's code regarding solar being currently under review regarding the wattage, prohibition in an overlay district and acreage, this project will have to wait to seek approval until the code changes have been approved. This will require a public hearing and board vote after the reviewed copy is done. After further discussion of why the changes would be beneficial, board members decided to move forward immediately with sending the draft to Franson for review and any additional changes she suggests. This could be as short as a month, or longer.

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