The Town of Somerset has been awarded $93,750 to help with attorney and engineering costs associated with a 125-megawatt solar array.
Administrative Law Judges Henry Joseph and John Favreau awarded the funds. According to a state document from the New York State Office of Renewable Energy Siting, the town intends to use the funding for legal fees and engineering work as it prepares to negotiate with Somerset Solar LLC over the placement of a 125-megawatt solar array around the former coal power plant.
Town officials said they needed the funds to “defray” the costs of hiring Lippes Mathias, LLP as attorneys and Wendel, as an engineering firm, and asked for $97,550 with $57,550 going to the law firm and $40,000 going to Wendel.
ORES requires that the company proposing a solar array deposit $1,000 per megawatt for local agency funding, according to Nathan Stone, an assistant public information officer for ORES.
An email stated, “75% ($93,750) goes to local agencies and is dispersed as follows: Town ($55,650) and the remaining ($38,100) goes to the engineering firm that conducts studies. The remaining 25% ($31,250) is reserved for local community groups and can be dispersed at the ALJ’s discretion.”
Law duties would entail advising the town on “94-c statute and regulations,” which is the process by which proposed solar arrays and wind turbines are applied for and granted by ORES’s executive director, Houtan Moaveni, as well as other legal issues.
Wendel was hired by Somerset and “proposes to conduct a thorough, technical review of the application and appropriateness of the proposed studies, particularly regarding compliance with local planning and zoning,” according to the document entitled, “Ruling Awarding Local Agency Account Funds” released on May 12.
Drew Reilly, an engineer at Wendel broke it down simply. Online right now are all the studies conducted by the applicant, he said, but they are in a redacted format. The Town of Somerset, Wendel and Lippes Mathias have all signed non-disclosure papers and in approximately two weeks that information will be shipped out in a non-redacted format.
Reilly said that the goal of the process for Wendel, as noted, is to make a technical review of all the Somerset Solar’s plans and point out where there is an issue that must be resolved.
“We want to be sure it’s done right,” he said.
Some of the topics Wendel will look into is drainage. Reilly noted that the state recognizes land with solar panels as having less drainage issues than those without it. The reason is because an acre of solar panels also has vegetation which absorbs rainfall.
Another issue is decommissioning of the project, Reilly said, and finally whether harmful chemicals are in the solar panels and will they leach out?
“Of course, PFAS’s are in everything. Rubber, plastics,” Reilly said of the polyfluorinated substances. “But will they leak into the waterways? Some companies used to use solar panels with PFAS’s and modern makers say they are not, but we have to make sure of that.”
The next milestone, according to Stone, is a review of Somerset Solar’s application regarding whether it is in a complete form, which will be done on or before June 6, 2023. ORES then has 60 days to give the company a draft permit, following — in another 60 days — a public hearing will be held in person.
Somerset Supervisor Jeff Dewart could not be reached for comment.
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