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Blooming Grove Public Hearing Sparks Debate Over Solar Code Changes

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

Thursday, 9/21 -UPDATE Town Supervisor Rob Jeroloman told the Courier Joural "Our attorney stated NYS and NYSERDA both recommend that municipalities amend their codes to allow a minimum of 5 megawatts and 40 or more acres for solar. The town is proposing 5 megawatts and no more than 35 acres of solar, .Less than what is recommended by NYS and NYSERDA."

A lively debate ensued on Tuesday evening 9/19, when Blooming Grove's Town Board held its Public Hearing about proposed changes in its Solar Code.

Mostly positive comments were made about several changes, such as the following: With solar technology progressing rapidly and solar units producing the same amount of power via significantly smaller units, Blooming Grove's new code, like many other municipalities in New York, is proposing to allow 5 Mg power systems which will add great efficiency. With the area's need for electric power increasing exponentially due to population and commercial growth both for local use and to help produce and transmit power from upstate to New York City, the need is tremendous. Add to that the concerns over climate change now believed by most to be caused largely by other sources of utility power, and concerns over the dangers of nuclear power, a majority now feels that the increased proportion of solar is better for the planet, helping to reduce density of the ozone layer. While residents can join these community solar programs through their local utility company at a significant discount per kw hour of use, participants need to balance that against any kw per hour rate increase from year to year.

Town Conservation Advisory Committee member, Ryne Kitzrow, said that while he is a proponent of solar he has several significant reservations about the 3 tp 4 solar projects being proposed in the Town of Blooming Grove. A quick search earlier in the day, he said, "would make Blooming Grove the most generous in the state" to facilitate solar projects. He added concerns about a change in Ridgeline Overlay Districts that would allow proposals to proceed with expansion of allowable acreage of a solar site, and said he would rather see projects move forward that are already in areas without forest, so that a large amount of clearcutting would not be required.

Resident Ryne Kitzrow, a member of the Town's Conservation Advisory Committee voiced reservations about the Code Amendments

Town Supervisor, Rob Jeroloman pointed out the reasons that the Town Planner and Council are in favor of allowing these changes, including that: the Prospect Road/Peddler Hill Lightstar Renewables project allows use of a formerly toxic landfill that would otherwise stand vacant. The project includes numerous protections that cap any residual landfill toxic material. And the site, which is about 34 acres will be very well buffered along both Prospect and Peddler Hill roads and is is part of a large parcel that will then be able to remain forested. It will also allow income enabling the longstanding owners to retain ownership of the land, receive some lease income, and prevent new housing along the long bucolic forested road. It will also provide the Town with tax benefits that will be passed on to residents. Further, the second currently proposed project at Marycrest committed that they will not seek any IDA related PILOT program of benefits and will negotiate any additional benefits directly with the Town. With respect to the Marycrest proposed solar project, Jeroloman also pointed out that while both solar sites had been included in the Town's Ridgeline Overlay Districts some years back, at the time it was generically based on site elevation with the intent to prevent visual impact in sensitive locations, but that because of the surrounding terrain neither of these 2 projects would have any visual impact, the Prospect Road system being shielded from view by forest and Marycrest, sitting in a knoll, would have an access road behind the convent and not be visible from either Route 17M or Quaker Hill Road, the project engineer saying "You would essentially not even know it was there", and adding that the Marycrest convent is very supportive of it.

Councilman Charles Quick was apparently satisfied with those responses to a question he had asked about benefits to residents, wondering whether project developers who live elsewhere have a real understanding of how projects like this impact residents actually living here. The engineer quipped that he does not, but that it's a nice town and he'd like to.

Resident Bonnie Rum said she is in favor of this potential increase in solar productivity and its benefits, that the change in allowable acreage is understandable due to the project meeting electric company restrictions that allow it to be financially viable, and that she would like to see more commercial rooftop installations. She added that she thought that with NY regulations now allowing 5Mg systems, a lot more of them will soon be built with those parameters.

Resident Bonnie Rum voiced support

Town Attorney, Brian Nugent commented that he aggreed, saying these projects are far from being the only projects in New York being proposed at 5 Mg and on over 30 acres.

Finally, Councilman Simon Schwarts, who repreents the Village of South Blooming Grove, commented in favor of the projects and the Amendments proposed to code, he said, because they are a significant financial benefit both to the town and residents, and an alternative to what might otherwise be another high density housing development.

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