Concerns aired about proposed Summit Street solar farm

JOHN D'ONOFRIO/STAFFCookie Butcher is pictured in front of her home at 210 Summit St., along with supporters opposing the solar farm being proposed for across the street on the south side of Summit (vacant land top right). A public hearing on granting a special use permit for the project Wednesday was virtual only, with residents calling into Lockport Community Television to make live comments.

The future of two large vacant properties on the south side of Summit Street now rests in the hands of the Lockport Common Council after Wednesday's 30-minute public hearing produced mixed responses in regard to a proposed special use permit to construct a solar farm project there.

OYA Ruhlmann A LLC says it wants to install about 24,000 solar panels on Summit Street, between State Road and South Transit Street.

So far, they've received a recommendation for approval by the city's planning board, but residents living nearby say they don't like the idea, fearing environmental concerns and a devaluation of their homes. 

In a letter to the city, Richard Brown of 64 Summit St. said he understands that property owners have the right to explore and make changes to their properties, as long as the changes are lawful and do no harm to nearby residents. 

“It's apparent that the property and economic value of the Ruhlmann farm will be higher with the solar project than the value from agricultural product cultivation,” Brown said, “and the result will be an effect on neighboring property values if it's installed.

“I'm concerned that my home value will be negatively affected,” Brown said.

“This is one of the first proposed major solar installations within a city limits in a neighborhood, anywhere in New York state. There is no blueprint for your decision-making. The fate of the project, as well as the fate of each residents' property, is in your hands.”

Representing OYA Solar, Lockport attorney John Ottaviano made a brief presentation detailing the two proposed solar projects on Summit Street on the city's south side — a 5 megawatt energy system at 251 Summit St. (utilizing 10 out of 43 available acres) and a 2.1 megawatt system at 219 Summit (utilizing 3.74 out of 16 available acres). 

Ottaviano stressed that the proposed project is considered “community solar,” a much smaller scale of solar farm than industrial solar.

“Community solar has to be five megawatts or less and are on 40 acres or less,” he said, adding that residents who would like to see similar completed OYA projects can drive out to Ward Road and Creek Road in Ransomville.

Council president Mark Devine questioned whether the city would be able to fight a fire at the location. Ottaviano said no batteries would be stored there.

City Clerk Paul Oates read aloud five letters from city residents, all opposing the solar farms. Among the communications received by the council at the public hearing was a letter from Cookie Butcher and a phone call from her husband, John, vehemently opposing the plans.

The Butchers, who own a sign company at 210 Summit St., have made signs opposing the solar project and they've been planted on front lawns all along the north side of the street, across from the proposed project site.

Responding to statements made that no batteries would be stored on site, John Butcher said that means OYA will only be able to produce solar power when the sun is shining.

“During the winter months, daylight can be less than six hours a day, so where does the energy come from to power residential houses, commercial business and industrial locations the other 18 hours a day?” he said.

“I don't see where it makes sense to take agricultural land and turn it into solar fields when there's no value. If it's not cost-effective and not environmentally friendly, what's the logic behind it?”

Besides a communication received from Terry Harmon stating that the city's planning board recommended approval of the special use permit for OYA, four additional letters were received and filed regarding the matter.

Cookie Butcher said solar panel wastes can include heavy metals such as silver, lead arsenic and cadmium that at some levels may be classified as hazardous waste.

“When solar panels are manufactured, they use toxic chemicals to clean them including hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid during production,” she said.

“Storage batteries also contain hazardous materials, including heavy metals, lead and sulfuric acid. Batteries have a short life cycle of three to five years. Who's responsible for the environmental cleanup? Will today's solar farms become tomorrow's brownfields?”

When asked about past solar projects they've worked on and the company's history, OYA officials said they've been around for the past decade. They currently have 30 solar projects they are working on in the state, including 11 scheduled for construction next summer.

No formal vote was taken on the special use request. The next scheduled meeting of the common council is 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 21.

Follow reporter John D’Onofrio on Twitter with “Good Morning, Lockport, N.Y.” weekday mornings at @LockportJournal.

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