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Largest solar farm for area gets nod

County planning board sets some stipulations

JOHNSTOWN — The Fulton County Planning Board on Tuesday sent back to the town of Perth a positive recommendation on the largest solar farm project ever proposed in the county.

The board didn’t see any regional issues, but attached some stipulations to the project, and otherwise forwarded it back to the Perth Town Planning Board. County planning officials recommended “mixed species” vegetation to help screen the proposed 20-megawatt solar farm by SunEast Limestone Solar’s along Bishop Road. Also, 10 to 12-foot trees with a warranty for the life of the project are recommended. The planning board also wants to see some sort of 50-foot corridor for snowmobiles that must be mapped and documented before the project can get off the ground.

County consultant Sean Geraghty took the county planning board through the project, which he said has a special permit application before the town. The solar farm would be built on three parcels of property owned by James Skiff, which is in Fulton County’s state-designated Agricultural District.

County Planning Director Scott Henze alluded to the project last October. He said the proposed solar farm would be on a 392-acre site and have its own substation. He said the Perth project was one of 21 large-scale solar projects that Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in March 2020. He said the project would involve working with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Board member Peter Goderie noted this is the first project of its kind in the agricultural district. He also noted a major snowmobile corridor going through the area of the project.

“It’s going to be interesting down the road,” he said.

Geraghty said the biggest concern is screening off such a large solar farm operation.

“There are great concerns about the visuals here,” he said.

But he said property owners near the site have already said “we’re okay with this” versus doing a housing development in that area of Perth.

Geraghty said the project may set up construction entrances on County Highway 107 near Humphrey Road, and off Sacandaga Road.

He said he has brought up some concerns about some of the vegetation being proposed not being frost-resistant. He also said deer coming through the area might be an issue, but Goderie said he didn’t see that.

Geraghty said that in many ways, SunEast Limestone Solar did it’s homework with this project.

“You’ve got a fairly extensive vegetation management plan,” he said.

Local code enforcement is always an issue with solar projects, Geraghty said. Planning board members asked about the oldest solar farms now in the county, and he mentioned off Route 67 and near the Fulton County Airport.

Much of the discussion during the session related to different types of soils, burms and trees with such projects. Geraghty said you don’t want to have to come back to a developer and complain two years into the project if trees ae dying, but the power is already up and running.

“The other recourse would be to fine them, heavily,” he said.

Board member Walt Fitzgerald commented, “If nobody does anything, there isn’t any punitive measure.”

If there are problems with vegetation screening solar projects, Geraghty said the municipality can get the company to comply partially, but the process “drags out.” But he said the state and federal governments want these types of projects anyway.

“They’re bending over backwards for them,” Geraghty said.

Goderie said solar companies want to develop on “flat open land.”

Geraghty said solar projects over 25 megawatts aren’t even reviewed locally, and “once it goes to the state board, it’s going to be approved.”

He also told the county board that what it suggests back to the town is important.

“What you guys recommend is going to be meaningful,” he said.

But Geraghty suggested the county remain “consistent” in its regulation of solar farms, albeit not “predictable.”

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