Maverick Farms to host solar array

Board members and spectators take their seats as the Town of Lockport Planning Board convene to decide whether a 45-acre solar farm will be sited on Maverick Farms. (Photograph by Benjamin Joe)

The Slayton Settlement Project’s special permit was approved by the Town of Lockport Planning Board Tuesday night. The project is a 45-acre solar array located on Karl Kowalski’s Maverick Farms property, which will give him the needed revenue to continue to be a producer of organic dairy products for the next generation of his farming family.

Drew Reilly of Wendel Engineering listed several points in the application submitted by Renewable Properties, a green-energy company that will be installing the solar panels and paying Kowalski for the use of his land. These points included noise, impacts on agriculture and the public health.

“There’s typically not an issue with fire in solar installations,” Reilly said in response to a question put forth by board member Marie Bindeman. “The worst-case scenario is a fire at one of the inverters. Solar arrays are not going to burst into flames. Typically what we hear from fire departments … is just emergency access to the site.”

In terms of agriculture impacts, Reilly noted that the the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (Ag and Markets) had sent a letter asking that alternatives to solar panels be considered, as well as a letter from the Niagara County Agricultural Board saying, “they frown upon farmlands being used for solar panels.”

“There’s a lot of back and forth, you guys have seen it. Ag and Markets was saying, ‘We need information’,” Reilly said. “… NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) who runs the program, was writing letters back saying they don’t have to meet those requirements. This went back and forth for months.”

Eventually, Renewable Properties offered the mitigations that Ag and Markets was asking for, Reilly said.

“They documented that they didn’t believe there were any other appropriate sites… then they presented an agricultural plan,” he said. “Since they couldn’t find alternative sites, they would provide purchase of development dollars to a third party, so someone could go in, purchase development rights from other farms and keep them as farmlands if no one could develop them.”

Reilly also noted that there were impacts to the community character and aesthetics.

“No one is going to argue 40 to 50 ares of solar panels isn’t going to change the character of an area,” he said. “But can they fit it in a way, meeting all requirements of the code, used setbacks etc., to mitigate those impacts to the character of the land?”

A vote for State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) said unanimously that there were no environmental impacts that would warrant a reason to stop the project. Attorney Tom Seaman offered conditions for a special use permit. They included a full decommissioning bond that would be reviewed every five years, a Payment in Lieu of Taxes or Community Host Agreement to be agreed upon and executed, to uphold Town Code and conditions set by Ag and Markets, that any changes in the plan be immediately related to the Town and to apply for a new site plan. The permit requires that vegetation is monitored and replaced if necessary and that the project not create traffic congestion except during construction. Applicants are required to notify the Town of any emergency situation, to give a tour of the facility to fire personnel and to not install any battery storage systems. Finally, operators will be required to give the Town a report of energy production annually or when requested.

Because of some confusion with the board members – some members thought they were voting for the amended conditions as written in this article – the first vote, a unanimous approval, was wiped clean by a vote to revote. The final vote was 5 to 2 with board members Adam Norris and John Lang dissenting.

At the end, Kowalski had only a few words to say having waited for this decision for months.

“I’m pleased with the outcome,” Kowalski said. “That’s about all I can say. I’m happy it’s moving forward.”

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