Residents storm out of solar hearing

Keith Silliman, senior developer for Cypress Creek Renewables on the Bear Ridge Solar project, asked residents to participate in an open house format information meeting to learn more about his project for the area. The crowd, however, asked him to answer their questions for all of them, as they speak with one voice. (Photograph by Benjamin Joe)

Cypress Creek Renewables LLC, the company behind the Bear Ridge Solar Project in the Towns of Cambria and Pendleton, was recently acquired by EQT, a Swedish-based investment company. 

The news was confirmed by Senior Developer Keith Silliman of the Bear Ridge Solar Project, but with that, he said that this financial event will not bring changes to the 900-acre, 10 megawatt solar farm being planned for the two municipalities.

“Cypress Creek is recapitalizing and increasing its funds to keep developing more and broader projects,” Silliman said. “There will be no change for the Bear Ridge Solar Project whatsoever.”

In correspondences with the US&J, Silliman had estimated the date of filing their application to the Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) to be Oct. 1. At this time, a notice and copy of the application would be sent to the municipalities as well as local newspapers.

Silliman noted that the project was to follow ORES regulations as a “94-c” application. Critics of the siting process have said that 94-c strips the power of local governments to negotiate where large scale renewable energy projects will be placed, and effectively forces the community to have solar and wind farms in their neighborhood, despite local zoning laws.

Currently, the Town of Cambria has a solar law in place that denies companies' access to parcels of land that are composed of 50% prime farmland soils.

In a letter to Wright Ellis, supervisor of the Town of Cambria, Silliman states, “The Facility cannot be designed to comply with this requirement. Given the amounts of these soil types within the Town, prohibiting placement of Facility components on such parcels could, therefore, effectively preclude solar development within the Town. In addition, other types of development within the Town do not appear to be subject to the same limitations.”

Silliman said in a recent interview that the letter sent to Cambria, as well as similar letters to the Town of Pendleton and Niagara County, stated the company’s perspective on what, “substantive laws would apply to our project.” 

“And we asked the question of each entities, ‘Did we miss anything?’ ” Silliman said. “I said substantive as opposed to procedural, because we don’t need to go to the localities to get the permits. We have to show ORES that either we can’t comply with a local requirement, or if we believe the local requirement is unreasonably burdensome, we tell ORES why we want to waive that requirement and do something different. And what we did here in most cases, I would say, if we can’t comply, we say that the requirement is unreasonably burdensome, but we can comply the state equivalent requirement.”

The list of requirements that Cypress Creek could not comply with included zoning laws within the Town of Cambria, as well as the amount of setbacks from a public road or park, and adverse noise impacts, but did state it would comply with state requirements.

Ed Selah, an activist against the project in Cambria, said the sale to EQT is of no surprise.

“We had internal discussions (that) something was happening when Cypress Creek began to fast track the process prior to filing the 94-c application,” Saleh said, referring to discussions within the Cambria Opposition to Industrial Solar (COIS) group. “The writing was on the wall when they gave the town a couple day notice of their meeting. It was COIS that rushed to create and mail flyers informing the public of the meeting that began at 5 p.m. in the middle of the week.”

“When Cypress Creek failed to address the concerns of the community in an open forum, we vacated the meeting in protest. Cypress Creek doesn’t like it when they can’t control the narrative, (and) it was proved once again. They are modern day snake oil sales people,” he continued. “I think the large question must be examined. Why are we allowing foreign entities control power plants, profit off the American consumer, enjoy billions in tax incentives and siphon profits to their country?”

Silliman said he had no comment on any subsidies, state or federal, that would apply for the project. He did, however, give a statement on the meeting COIS stormed out of.

“Cypress Creek recently held a community meeting for our 100 MW Bear Ridge Solar Project we are developing in the Towns of Pendleton and Cambria. Our goal for the meeting was to share information about the project, introduce our team and engage in a dialogue with residents. We appreciate everyone who attended. I want you to know that we will continue to seek your input and develop a project that benefits these communities,” reads the statement which also gave out the email address of the local coordinator of the project.

“There are now 3GW (gigawatt) of solar installed in New York. Across the country, solar accounts for the largest source of new generation, because solar energy is cost effective and emissions-free,” Silliman continued. “We will continue to work with the towns and residents on different siting opportunities and ways, through our proposed Host Community Benefit package, to increase the benefits of the project for these communities.”

Silliman said such packages include bill credits for the town’s residents, a pay-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement or regular taxes, as well as a fund to develop projects of interest to the community.

“That could include anything from a playground, to restoring a historic structure, or improving a rail trail. It can be supporting the local fire departments. If they need a new truck, we can help with that,” he said. “The dollar amount that was mentioned before I was involved, is that the host community benefit community at Bear Ridge, minus the bill credit issue, would be $10 million. That’s a rough number and we have not further refined that number with the municipalities.”

That number would be split by the school districts, the towns and the county, said Silliman.

Local coordinator Rikki Cason can be reached at Rikki.cason@ccrenew.com to schedule an appointment for questions at the local office at 6421 Campbell Blvd., Suite B in Lockport.

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