A Florida-based company known as NextEra Energy Resources has drawn a lot of concern from residents in Seneca County, and at last month’s series of committee meetings held by the Seneca County Board of Supervisors, a brief debate was had about that company’s future development locally.
NextEra Energy is entering into the Article 10 process to develop an 80-megawatt solar electric generating project. Many residents have been skeptical—or outright dismissive—of the proposal to convert a large swath of farm land into property layered with solar arrays.
As part of that process, the solar company will have to go through a number of steps to give the public an opportunity to voice their opinion. The Article 10 process was threatened by Circular enerG after a proposed incinerator in Romulus was shot down by local boards.
The Article 10 process allows developers the opportunity to appeal to the Public Service Commission, who then rules on overall favorability of a project. That decision is rendered by a board, which is at least partially appointed by local government agencies even though “home rule” is thrown to the wayside in the process.
New York is a home rule state, which means that the smallest of local governing entities have “primary right” to make core decisions about things like zoning and land use.
This proposal to build a large solar operation along Packwood Road in the Town of Waterloo drew enough criticism from residents that those concerns were brought to the Board of Supervisors.
The thought was that the County could create a countywide moratorium on solar; however, County Attorney David Ettman pushed back against that idea. “That would be a very difficult road to go down,” he explained during a brief period of discussion. The committee was no more eager to consider a countywide ban on these types of solar developments.
Local residents outlined a number of concerns, including the prospect of having the natural beauty of their communities ruined by massive solar complexes. A collection of residents from the Packwood, Servin, and Border City road areas brought concerns to Robert Shipley, chairman of the County Board of Supervisors.
“Many of these residents have not seen significant changes to the local landscape in many years,” Shipley said. “They have concerns about the speed at which the project is happening and the potential damage that it could do to property or neighborhood values.”
The company said that the solar panels will stand about 10 feet-tall and would include commercial-grade solar arrays and a series of access roads for maintenance as well as buried and overhead electrical lines. There would also be a collection substation on site to move energy from the collection area to NYSEG’s Border City substation.
Even Seneca County Industrial Development Agency Executive Director Bob Aronson voiced concerns about the process, or at the very least the speed at which the process has played out so far.
Even that, though, for what it was worth in debate, stirred little reaction from the committee. “This process isn’t being rushed,” Don Trout, Waterloo town supervisor, explained. “We’re still months away from even beginning, really, which is a good thing. Residents who have concerns will have an opportunity to voice those.”
Not everyone is willing to speak publicly about concerns they have with solar projects like this one. “There are so many unknowns,” said one South Seneca resident who believes it is only a matter of time before a project of this scale finds its way to the south end. “Will we have the supervisors’ support and backing if we choose to maintain the natural beauty of our community, if we oppose it?”
Among those unknowns are the health concerns of living near solar arrays. Some are also concerned about the environmental impacts of solar arrays over a long period of time, especially when they are commercial-grade and there is a high density of them.
Meanwhile, others wonder why projects like this aren’t green-lit and pushed through faster. “There seems to be consensus that these projects are the best path forward when it comes to economic development and responsible energy consumption,” one member of the public said, declining to be identified for fear of repercussion. “Sometimes it feels like people oppose anything and everything for the simple sake of doing so.”
A total of 15 studies will be conducted over the next several months, which will encourage public input. David Boxold of NextEra Energy is the study point person, and anyone with concerns or questions about the studies can reach him directly at email@example.com. Boxold’s mailing address is 700 Universe Blvd., FEW/JB, Juno Beach, Fla., 33408.