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Manlius residents speak on proposed 14-acre solar array farm

Tim Ahrens, senior project manager for Forefront Power, the company proposing the solar array, gave an informational presentation preceding the public hearing. (Hayleigh Gowans)

It was standing room only at the May 24 meeting of the Manlius Town Board, where dozens of residents came out to voice their opinions on a proposed solar array project, Evergreen Solar Facility, off of Green Lakes Road between Buttonvale and Kinderhook roads in the town of Manlius.

Tim Ahrens, senior project manager for Forefront Power, the company proposing the solar array, gave an informational presentation preceding the public hearing. The total size of the property Forefront Power would rent from Chuck Hafner’s Christmas Tree Farm is 146 acres, but the solar panel array would take up about 13.6 acres and would be 488 feet from Green Lakes Road. The evergreen trees currently being grown on the property would serve as a natural screening and Ahrens said the panels would mostly not be viewable from the road except for in a few locations.

Each ground-mounted solar panel would be no more than eight to 10 feet from the ground, and a chain link fence would surround the panels. The panels would produce 2,000 kilowatts of energy, enough to produce electricity for about 350 homes, said Ahrens. The power produced from the array would not directly be used by Manlius residents, but would be utilized by National Grid in its overall energy usage.

A central inverter would need to be installed at the property, and would be the only concrete used in construction. Ahrens said. The construction period would take about four months and the panels would be monitored remotely, with a regular maintenance schedule by an engineer. The company will contract with a ground maintenance company to ensure the property is maintained and free of garbage.

Deputy Supervisor John Loeffler said the property is currently zoned RA (residential agricultural) and solar arrays are already permissible in this zone, so a zone change variance is not needed, but the project must obtain a special permit from the town board.

This is not the first solar array project to be proposed in the area, said Town Attorney Tim Frateschi. In the fall of 2015, solar energy company SunEdison proposed a 12-acre solar array across the road from this proposed project, but never followed through on the process.

Several residents, many who lived on Kinderhook and Buttonvale roads, spoke at the public hearing about their concerns about installing a solar array farm near their properties, including the impacts the project could have on home values, aesthetics, criminal activity, wildlife and human health.

“Through some research I’ve found that real estate property home values near these sorts of projects go down,” said Brian Winer. “We don’t want to see the real estate in this area devalue.”

“What about the effects on human health?” said Andrew Esposito. “Aesthetics are one thing, wildlife is another, but human health is paramount … Do we know what the effects will be?”

“I do think it should be pointed out there is a heck of a strain on agricultural land owners with taxes. I think homeowners need to understand why property owners are looking at projects like this to offset costs,” said Tom Handel. “I’m not for or against the project, but I think homeowners need to consider — if that area is developed, would you rather have a bunch of homes built or the solar project?”

Loeffler said the board has the right to add stipulations — such as additional screening — to the permit if it were to be approved. If the project gained the special permit, it would still need to gain site plan approval by the town planning board.

The board closed the public hearing, and said they would work to answer the questions brought up at the public hearing. No vote on the project is currently scheduled and interested residents can view documents related to this project’s application at the town clerk’s office, 301 Brooklea Drive, Fayetteville.

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