More than 18 months after their first appearance before a Town of Montgomery Board, and after a change in the town’s bylaws allowed them to proceed, proponents of an agrivoltaics project at 55 Plains Road returned to the town’s planning board last week for a public hearing.
The plan submitted by Massachusetts-based Lightstar Renewables LLC involves the installation of solar panels on a hayfield at the DiMartino Farm on Plains Road. The installation would allow hay to grow underneath the solar panels that would generate electricity.
Kami Cohen, Director of Development for Lightstar, said Agrivoltaics was proposed as one of the ways to preserve farmland and foster renewable energy within the town of Montgomery.
“And so we are here presenting a project that is currently permitable by zoning and approvable by special use permit and the site plan application process,” Cohen said. “So community solar is a different type of solar project whereby members who live within Central Hudson Gas and Electric service territory, which I believe is most people who live within the town of Montgomery, can pay to purchase energy from our project and receive a 10% discount on their bill compared to what they pay to Central Hudson Gas and Electric.”
Cohen said community members can opt to purchase energy directly from the project.
“We also pay lease payments to the landowners and then we provide tax revenue to the town through PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) agreements,” she added, describing the project as the integration of agriculture and solar on the same parcel.
“So land between the solar arrays and under the solar arrays can continue to be farmed. And the project is designed to enable that to occur at the same time,” Cohen continued. “And especially in the town of Montgomery, given that the zoning does require that if solar is placed on prime soils, which it is for this project, then it must be restricted to remain in agricultural operation. And we have every intention to do so.”
The proposed project will feature a a 2.5MW solar array on 15 acres. The panels, which stand a minimum of 10 feet in height, will rotate towards the direction of the sun and will have 28.6 ft between panel edges when panels are at solar noon (flat). There are 30 feet between the end of the row of panels and the fence to allow a tractor to traverse the perimeter.
Cohen said she spoke with a neighbor of the property who requested that the panels be set farther back from the property line than originally proposed. And so they would be set back 150 feet from the lot line, when the zoning calls for 40 feet.
There were a few comments from the public.
“It’s really huge compared to this type of solar projects that we’ve had in the past,” said Don Berger, urging the planning board and consultants to do their “due diligence” on the site.
He also questions the 10 percent reduction on the Central Hudson bill for those who opt in.
“Okay, so what you’re saying is that, say a resident of the house, right? They’re, if they opt in, they’re not automatically gonna get that 10% discount,” Berger said. “And by the way, it’s not a 10% discount on the entire Central Hudson bill, it’s only one of the, I think, three different charges, correct? “
He was told it’s 10 percent of the energy portion of the bill.
“Right, so it’s much less because you make it sound like it’s 10% of the bill, it’s not 10% of the bill, it’s 10% of one of the sections of the bill,” Berger said.
Cohen, in response to another question, said the PILOT the project is seeking is not from the local Industrial Development Agency, but a New York State grant for solar projects.
Andrea Martinez, who lives on an adjacent property to the DiMartino farm, is opposed to the project.
“Hearing of the plans to take this tranquil land and create 20 -plus acres of solar panels was disappointing,” she said. “We realize this is not our land and the landowners have a great deal of influence in the neighborhood and can obviously do what they want with it.
However, we do live here and we’ve paid our taxes to the town for 20 years and we believe we should also have a say in what is being built in our residential community and directly next to our home.”
Martinez stated some of her concerns that led to her opposition to the project. They included lower property values, aesthetically not appealing, negative effect on wildlife including loss of habitat and the fear that the large solar panels could cause potential fires.
“I have voiced my concerns to the land owner as well as the town office and the solar company that is planning this project. I am very supportive of solar; however, it should be done in the right place versus a residential area with large land,” Martinez said. “ I am hopeful that these concerns will be reviewed not only for myself and my family but for the entire community that resides near this property.”
Jack Ryan of Walden voiced his “enormous support” for the project, citing the recent closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plan as a need to develop alternative energy sources.
“This is exactly what we need. It’s in a spot adjacent to a former landfill,” Ryan said. “This property is unusable for anything except solar and agriculture. This is perfect, and I just like to say, Mr. DiMartino you’re making the right choice here. I support this whole heartedly and I hope you do too.”
Planning Board Chairman Fred Reichle suggested keeping the public hearing open until Wednesday, September 13, which is the date of the board’s first September meeting, delayed till Wednesday because of a Monday holiday.