GLEN — An open house on the Mill Point Solar Project proposed by ConnectGen became an impromptu sit-down between residents and developers to discuss the project and answer questions.
ConnectGen hosted a pair of open house sessions on the proposed solar project in the barn at Eion’s Hideaway Pavilion on Wednesday, one in the afternoon and another in the evening, to best accommodate all interested residents. The developer plans to hold at least one additional public meeting later this year to gather feedback from the community as plans are finalized.
The 250-megawatt solar power generation facility proposed for construction in Glen was announced in 2020 by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority as one of 21 large-scale solar projects selected statewide to meet New York’s goal of getting 70% of the its power from renewable energy sources by the end of the decade.
The solar panel farm would span approximately 2,000 acres of land, and would be capable of supplying power to approximately 65,000 homes. Informational boards were posted throughout the barn with project representatives nearby to answer residents’ questions and accept feedback on the plans.
Most of the town’s roughly 2,700 residents have familiarized themselves with early plans presented by ConnectGen representatives during a virtual open house in April.
In recent months, residents have broadly criticized the proposal and the approval process for large-scale solar projects of 25 megawatts or larger through the state’s Office of Renewable Energy Siting that would take the decision out of local hands.
Locals have voiced concerns that the massive project will destroy scenic views, occupy a large amount of farmland, drive out the town’s Amish population and forever alter the character of the rural town. Residents sharing those worries organized Glen Families Allied for Responsible Management of Land or GlenFARMLand in opposition to the project.
Yet, the afternoon open house was well attended by residents looking for more details on what may be coming to their town, if approved by the state. Those in attendance got their first glimpse on Wednesday of the project’s potential impact on the town as ConnectGen displayed a map outlining preliminary sites where solar panels and project components would be located.
The map shows the project spread out in clusters with perhaps the largest section of the project surrounding Auriesville Road and Route 30A. Other significant sections would be located around Lansing, Hall and Pryne roads and along Route 5S reaching around Marys Lane. Additionally, several individual sites would be located along Mile Level, Van Epps and Ingersoll roads.
ConnectGen Project Manager Eddie Barry confirmed the maps displayed the entire 2,000-acre project area, while acknowledging the plans are still preliminary and sites could be modified as the design process progresses. The developer is in the early phases of engineering the project and conducting environmental assessments necessary to limit the potential impacts on land, wildlife and historical sites.
The developer will conduct a visual impact analysis later in the design process to determine view-sheds of the project based on existing topography and vegetation. This information will be used to develop mitigation measures Barry said could involve increasing setback distances, screening by planting new vegetation and other methods.
ConnectGen will involve stakeholders within two miles of the solar farm in discussion while developing these plans and will approach the owners of properties neighboring the farm area to discuss specific concerns and how they can be addressed.
“A lot of times it’s going to be a question of how can we protect their viewshed, can we maybe adjust a setback to space greater distance from their property, some people will sign neighbor agreements where we will compensate them through the life of the project for those impacts,” Barry said.
The topography of the town may make it challenging to screen the project, according to Brent Phetteplace, a town of Amsterdam resident and chairman of that municipality’s Planning Board. He attended the open house to get an idea of the potential visual impact of the Mill Point Solar Project given his profession as a real estate broker.
“Real estate appraisers actually put value on a thing called view amenity. If the view amenity is impacted or has some obsolescence, it can certainly bring down property values,” Phetteplace said. “This is so widely scattered across the town of Glen [which] has rolling topography, so many people will see this from many locations.”
Residents shared their thoughts and questions about the solar farm throughout the afternoon and collectively sat down with project representatives midway through the open house to engage in a group dialogue at the request of locals.
The chat got off to a rocky start when resident Susan Whiteman started the unplanned sit-down off by reading concerns from members of the town’s Amish community who were unable to be in attendance. Talking over industrial-size fans scattered through the barn, Whiteman went on the offensive when Barry said he thought the group wanted their questions answered.
“In this scenario, every time we want to have a conversation, you say no we’re just going to answer questions,” Whiteman said. “Now is my chance, our chance to give you information to make sure you understand our community.”
Barry said he was seeking clarification, noting his previous engagement with Whiteman by phone and email before giving her the floor.
Whiteman highlighted the critical role of farming to Amish families and the concerns the community has that fertile agricultural land will be taken up by the unsightly project. Members of the Amish community have said the majority of the more than 77 families in the town agree they will leave the area and the state if the solar farm is built.
As major food producing states currently face drought conditions and California is ravaged by wildfires, Whiteman went on to question the wisdom of using farmland to host the solar project.
“When your shelves go empty,” Whiteman said. “Remember, this town could be the one source of food for not only our town, our state and our country.”
The discussion became tense as longtime farmers describing the hardships they have faced to remain in business, pointed to the solar project as a lifeline for their operations, and pushed back against residents concerned about the visual impacts.
“Unfortunately the dairy farming industry in this area has been brutal,” dairy farmer Ray Dykeman said.
The industry in the state has been squeezed by regulations, and the departure of several processing plants has created a huge challenge for dairy farmers, Dykeman said. His own farm was forced to dump around 15 loads of milk over processing shortages last year.
Still, Dykeman was reluctant to participate in the solar project and showed ConnectGen representatives the door several times when they showed up at his farm. Already facing an expected $750,000 loss in revenue this year in an industry where prices have long remained flat, Dykeman said he was ready to wave the white flag.
Although not fully on board with the concept, he signed onto the project as a business proposition and expressed frustration over residents questioning his decisions.
“This may enable me an opportunity to downsize the farm where I can still find a home for my milk, keep me in business,” Dykeman said. “If you haven’t managed a payroll, if you haven’t tried to balance a checkbook, if you haven’t tried to make ends meet on a farm, it’s a very difficult situation right now.”
“I’m getting tired of people telling me what I’m supposed to do with my land,” he added.
Third-generation dairy farmer Dennis Egelston described the decision his son as a fourth-generation farmer has been forced to grapple with over whether to continue the farm the way it always has been despite the fact that it is “bleeding.”
“Do you know what it’s like for a fourth-generation farmer that has to make a decision on, ‘Am I going to lose everything that my father, grandfather and great grandfather did, because I can’t make it anymore?’” Egelston said. “This is a lifeline for us, we can take this and still be in business. And it hurts, there is no doubt about it. It’s a personal matter.”
Participating in the ConnectGen solar project would allow the farm to continue. Without it, Egelston said the 100-year-old family farm simply will not last, asking concerned residents to show struggling farmers the same level of consideration they have shown to their neighbors who oppose the project.
“I understand some people won’t like the view, they’re going to try to do as much as they can to eliminate personal houses from looking at it. They’re going to work with you if you work with them,” Egelston said. “I don’t like it any more than anybody else does, but I’ve got to face reality.”
Bonnie Couture, co-chair of GlenFARMLand, expressed understanding for all of the viewpoints brought to bear as the daughter of farmers. Acknowledging the state’s energy goals and that the approval process likely meant some level of solar development in the town is inevitable, Couture pointed to the need for continuing the open dialogue as plans develop in order to best mitigate the potential long-term impacts.
“If we could come up with a plan that would not interfere with a great amount of this valuable farmland and some of the beautiful, beautiful scenery we have here. Let’s face it, 2,000 acres is a lot. Our little township isn’t that big. If we could all work together so maybe one property isn’t surrounded totally, I would really appreciate that,” Couture said. “I hope in the future we can talk more.”
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News