North country large-scale solar projects are in motion

·6 min read

May 9—LOWVILLE — Large-scale solar projects are moving forward across the north country and statewide, ramping up to submit successful applications to the Office of Renewable Energy Siting — the equivalent of the new siting board in the expedited approval process that replaced Article 10, 94-C.

San Diego-based EDF Renewables, a subsidiary of the French utility company, EDF, announced its contract with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority under the 2020 Renewable Energy Standard solicitation for three of its projects on Thursday.

One of the three, Tracy Solar Energy Center, is a 119-megawatt project in the towns of Orleans and Clayton that includes a 5-megawatt energy storage system.

This coveted incentive provides a guaranteed revenue stream for the energy produced by the project which will be sold to NYSERDA in the form of "energy credits" which are then sold to state utilities.

The NYSERDA deal now requires companies like EDFR to provide $500 per megawatt for a "Host Community Electricity Benefit" which is a "payment split among all residential electricity customers in our host towns for 10 years," according to the information provided at public meetings for the project held virtually in April.

EDFR also has a much larger solar project proposed for the town of Canton — Rich Road Solar Energy Center — which was transferred to the 94-C siting process on Tuesday.

In its current form, the project would have a 240-megawatt energy production capacity with storage capability of 20 megawatts, according to the company's website. However, Canton had extended a moratorium on large-scale energy storage projects until March 31 in order to set up new local statutes to govern the process.

Borrego Solar System's 110-megawatt Rutland Center Solar 1 project slated for the towns of Rutland and Watertown was also awarded the NYSERDA contract for energy credits in the 2020 solicitation.

"This project award reflects Borrego's expansion into utility-scale development," said Dan Berwick, general manager of development at Borrego via a news release on the company's website. The Rutland project will be the company's largest project since its creation in the 1980s as an off-grid solar installation company.

As part of the NYSERDA process, the San Diego-based company prepared a general community engagement plan it is now in the early stages of using to move toward filing a 94-C siting application.

The Rutland project proposes solar arrays in a site area totaling 915 acres beginning near the top of State Street Hill.

The company anticipated holding public information meetings at some point this spring and hopes to submit the project's application to the Siting Office in the winter.

The 120-megawatt Greens Corners Solar project owned by Canadian company Boralex is planned for the towns of Hounsfield and Watertown and is the largest solar project the company has in development or operation.

Green Corners was transferred to the new siting office on April 30 although according to the timeline on company's website, they had anticipated submitting their siting application by this time.

The 2,655-acre solar farm, having been further along in the Article 10 process than many of the other transferring projects, has held a total of five public meetings in 2020, the last two of which were held virtually in December.

A number of neighboring landowners in Hounsfield have circulated petitions against the project, expressing concern about their property values and quality of life if it is built as currently planned. The group is anticipated to take action when intervenor funding becomes available.

Boralex intends to have the project operational in the third quarter of 2023 if it is approved through 94-C.

Greens Corners Solar was awarded a NYSERDA contract last year from the 2019 solicitation.

AES Corporation based in Arlington, Va., the company that now owns former Geronimo Energy/National Grid Renewables projects, held public meetings for two projects situated six miles apart in Lewis County.

The 125-megawatt Maple Sugar Solar Project public meeting was held virtually on April 8.

The project will have a 20-megawatt battery storage component in the 1,500-acre project area located in the town of Croghan in Lewis County and the town of Wilna in Jefferson.

On Thursday, AES held the public meeting online for its 100-megawatt New Bremen Solar project.

This project is also anticipated to have a 20-megawatt storage aspect and the entire 1,100 acres in the project area are in the town of New Bremen.

The two projects are about six miles apart.

For both projects, the company plans to submit the 94-C applications this summer and to begin construction by the end of 2022 in order to be fully operational by the end of 2023.

Another AES project, the 100-megawatt Riverside Solar, transferred out of Article 10 on March 3, the day after a virtual community meeting which generated a significant number of questions.

The 1,000-acre project area is in the towns of Lyme and Brownville in Jefferson County.

AES will submit the application for a 94-C siting permit within the next few months and anticipates beginning construction of the facility at the end of 2022 if approved.

According to the Office of Renewable Energy Siting spokesman Nathan Stone, none of the projects in the north country that have transferred to the 94-C siting process of that office have submitted applications, only transfer requests.

"Before a full application can be submitted ... pre-application procedures require an applicant to work closely with local municipalities and New York state agencies and conduct meaningful and sufficient public engagement," Mr. Stone said via email. "These substantive pre-application consultations will minimize the likelihood of the Office receiving incomplete applications or poorly sited projects."

As a result, all of the solar projects that have made the transfer are in the process of holding public information sessions and meeting with municipal leaders and other stakeholders, collecting data and performing studies including visual impact surveys, wetlands mitigation plans and architectural impact assessments among others.

Florida-based Next Era Energy's North Side Energy Center solar project in the towns of Brasher, Massena and Norfolk in St. Lawrence County is a 180-megawatt project that has remained in the Article 10 process so far.

The company filed its siting application with the state Siting Board for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need and was informed on April 20 of "deficiencies" in their application which is a typical part of the process.

The municipalities involved in that project have all requested "intervenor" funding to help with lawyer, specialist and other expenses that arise from being a part of the Article 10 process interested in verifying or challenging information provided by the company.