During a virtual tour of the 280-megawatt, 1,700-acre solar project proposed in the town of Byron, the project developer Monday afternoon said the proposal will lead to financial benefits for farmers and the town, among others.
Project officials, during the virtual open house, the first of two Monday, also took time to answer questions.
Keddy Chandran, project developer for Excelsior Energy Center, said Excelsior, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, LLC says it plans to create 290 full-time jobs during construction, investing about $40 million in jobs such as laborers, equipment operators, electricians, construction managers and foremen. The proposal would create between three and four high-tech jobs including high voltage technician, technician leader and solar technicians. The solar energy project includes the following, according to Excelsior:
• maximum capacity of 280 megawatts;
• energy storage capability of 20 megawatts;
• approximately 1,700 acres utilized; and
• equivalent to taking about 50,000 cars off the road.
If approved, the project is expected to start commercial operation in the fourth quarter of 2022. It is currently in the study scope stipulation phase.
According to Excelsior, the benefits of solar energy include:
• it is cost-competitive;
• a clean, renewable source of energy;
• no air, water or soil pollution;
• creates jobs;
• places no burden on local services;
• payments to landowners;
• taxes to communities;
• purchase of goods and services; and
• land continues to be used as before.
“We attended many Planning Board meetings, many Town Board meetings,” Chandran said. “A lot of people know my face, for better or for worse. We’ve been at Byron Hotel many, many times, just to seek local feedback ... Unfortunately, COVID has forced us to change some things, but (I) really have enjoyed getting to know people and to hear the feedback, to understand those responses and to try to incorporate that the best that we can.
“One of the myths I often hear, every time that we go to town, is that this is taking farmland. That could not be further from the truth,” Chandran said. “In fact, the farmers we are working with, who are participating landowners in this project and solar projects all across the state, they look at solar as a way to diversify income so that they can overcome economic pressures and keep their farms alive,” he said. “That is a fact that is important for everybody to know and a reason to support solar projects like this and others across the state. The farmland is temporarily out of operation, however, it is a very low-impact development — compared to, for example, a strip mall, a neighborhood, a distribution center or just a parking lot.”
Chandran said the project will benefit the local community. Five megawatts would be for the town of Byron and its businesses. This would be administered through the Community Solar Program.
“The kilowatt-hours produced by the local program creates credits that have value that can be allocated to residents and businesses, and even government, to provide a savings,” he said. “We’re going to be talking about this in the Article 10 application and in many other ways subsequent to that.”
Michelle Piasecki of Harris Beach, PLLC of Albany, co-counsel for Excelsior along with Sam Laniado of Reed and Laniado, talked about the next steps of the proposed project.
“There are a number of studies that the team has completed that are necessary to include in the application,” she said. “It plans to submit the application sometime in the next several weeks. Once the application is submitted, the agencies review the information that is provided and ensure that all of the required information is included and is in compliance with the regulations and the stipulations that have been signed by any of the parties. They make what’s called a ‘completeness determination.’ They have 60 days to do that.”
“Once that’s done, Piasecki said, there’s typically more information that needs to be provided, so Excelsior will file an application supplement that will complete the initial information that’s requested.
“Later on in the stages, there will be public hearings so members of the community — supporters and anybody from the town, whoever’s interested in the project, has the ability to go and provide comments on the project, and state their positions,” she said.
After that, Piasecki said, there will be some legal filings made by all the participants in the proceedings.
“If there are any issues that are in dispute and need to have an evidentiary hearing, one of those will be held as well,” she said. “Once the record closes ... the administrative law judges who are overseeing the proceeding will review all the information that’s been provided. They will make a recommended decision to the Siting Board on whether or not to approve the project and what, if any, conditions will need to be included in order for their decision to go forward.”
“The Siting Board will way the recommended decision and the record before them ... and they will ultimately make the decision about whether or not the project can move forward,” she said.