GENESEO - The developer proposing to construct a 40-acre, 5-megawatt solar array near the north end of Conesus Lake hopes to start construction by the end of the year so it can be up, running and producing energy by the middle of 2021.
Should it move forward, the array would be located on a 64-acre parcel of land at 3812 West Lake Rd. in the town of Geneseo, about 450 yards from the waters of Conesus Lake.
Michael Lossia, managing partner of Helios Energy, the Michigan-based company that’s developing the array, said during an interview last week that solar panels would only take about 40 of the parcel’s nearly 64 acres and that the entire array will be shielded from view by trees and other vegetation.
Helios is leasing the land for the array from its owner, identified in Livingston County tax records as the PJ Nyberg Family Limited Partnership based in Cape Cod, Mass.
“One of our contractors that we use to find properties for us that would be viable went to Mr. Nyberg when he saw his piece of land and asked him if he’d be interested in leasing it for solar. He said ‘absolutely,’” said Lossia. “We came to an agreement on the terms of a lease for 25 to potentially 35 years. Once we came to an agreement on a lease we dove… into all the other necessary civil studies we had to conduct.”
The site of the proposed array is relatively flat and, as an agricultural field, free of trees. It’s partly for those reasons the site was chosen, Lossia said. But perhaps more important was its proximity to National Grid’s North Lakeville Substation, which is located about a mile north, at the intersection of Route 20A and West Lake Road.
This proximity to a substation which has the capacity to accept the additional energy the array will produce makes the site very attractive from a solar developer’s standpoint, said Lossia.
“There’s very few properties you’re going to be able to find that,” he said.
Lossia said the company is also seeking a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, agreement with Livingston County. Such an agreement would dictate the terms of annual payments to each of the three taxing entities in which the array would be located – Livingston County, the town of Geneseo and the Livonia Central School District.
While an arrangement has not yet been finalized Lossia anticipated annual PILOT payments of $22,500 on the low end to be split among the three entities, or about $4,500 per megawatt the array is expected to produce.
Gene Bolster is vice president of the Conesus Lake Association, a non-profit dedicated to promoting the welfare of lake residents, and also serves as chair of its water quality committee.
Bolster said the association tends not to offer opinions or otherwise get involved in towns’ land use decisions “unless there’s the potential to impact water quality.”
In the case of the solar proposal, Bolster said developers completed a storm water pollution prevention plan.
“That study, from what we understand, has shown there will be no increased runoff over and above what is already there (from) the current land use,” he said. “That’s true for both the construction phase and the post-construction phase.”
As such, Bolster continued, the CLA as an organization doesn’t have any issues with the solar proposal.
Before it can move forward, the project needs to secure a special use permit from the town of Geneseo’s planning board. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 10.
The proposal was the subject of a July 13 public hearing before the planning board. One of those who spoke out against the project at the hearing was Scott Kuyon, winemaker at Deer Run Winery, which is immediately adjacent to the site of the array on West Lake Road.
During an interview with the County News last week, Kuyon worried construction of the array and, once it concludes, the array itself, will undo the hard work and thousands of dollars Deer Run has poured into turning itself into a first-tier events and wedding venue.
On-site events are a growing source of income for Deer Run, with such sales now accounting for between 20 and 30 percent of its total revenues.
Kuyon said he doesn’t believe the developer’s promise that vegetation will block the array from view and worries that no couple is going to want to get married with a field of solar panels as their backdrop. Deer Run has already booked 14 weddings for next summer based largely on artists’ renderings of its new wedding pavilion, which will feature all the bells and whistles couples are looking for in a venue.
“Stone fireplace, built-in bar in the back, stamped and stained concrete, bistro lighting, custom canvas sides all the way down – all the nice stuff to make it visually appealing,” he said.
Kuyon worries what those 14 couples will say if and when he has to call and tell them they could end up getting married a few hundred feet from, at worst, a construction site and, at best, a 40-acre field of solar panels
“If it goes through, I am going to be having to make those phone calls,” he said. “I may face cancellations.”
Deer Run has already faced event cancellations and other financial fallout as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, said Kuyon. He and his parents, Deer Run owners George and Joan Kuyon, have put everything into their winery. There is no plan B.
“We’re all in,” Kuyon said. “I’ve taken all liquid cash out. I’m all in, it’s all or nothing. It’s do or die for me right here, right now.”