Residents express opposition to Cortlandville solar project

(Photo via Unsplash)

A contingent of residents raised questions at Wednesday's Cortlandville town board meeting about potential drops in property values, increased truck presence in the area, and benefits to the town brought on by a new solar energy project on Route 215.

The board set up a public hearing on Wednesday to decide on whether to authorize an aquifer protection permit to developer Cortlandville PV LLC, a subsidiary of New York City developer RIC Development of New York. Board members eventually approved the permit, which is a step in the site plan approval process that involves the town planning board, the Cortlandville town board, as well as recommendations from the Cortland County planning board.

The project was initially unveiled to the town planning board in April and would consist of a 5 megawatt ground-mounted solar farm at 3023 Route 215. The parcel is currently a combination of farmland, wetlands, and a forest landscape. In documents submitted to the town planning board, RIC officials said the company had conducted a full coordinated electric system interconnection review alongside National Grid, which confirms the feasibility of the project. 

Copies of the documents submitted to the planning board can be viewed by clicking here.

Theodore Jerome, who lives on Gallagher Road and whose property is near the proposed project, expressed concerns at the public hearing regarding potential aquifer contamination.

“If there is a problem with the aquifer, say with drainage, how does that affect my well?,” he asked. “How does that affect my property value?”

Jerome also asked if the RIC would have a decommissioning plan if the project is abandoned down the road. 

“I'm also not a fan of the fact that there's going to be all the noise during construction,” he noted.

Cindy Johnson, who lives on Route 215, installed a medicinal herb farm at her property. She is now concerned the project could affect the soil and water at her parcel. Johnson added she is unsure about the potential for increased presence of commercial vehicles in the area.

“I personally think we’re going to be looking at solar farm graveyards, I really do,” Johnson said. “I think there’s a better way to use solar energy instead of completely disrupting the environment around it.”

For Johnson, the benefits solar energy brings to the community have not been able to outweigh the negatives. 

“It's disturbing to most people. No one's electric bills have gone down,” she  said. “They've all gone up.”

It is unclear if Johnson was referring to the rate increases announced by National Grid at the beginning of last year.

John DelVecchio, the town’s attorney, said Cortlandville’s local ordinance governing solar developments insulates the town from some of these issues. For instance, the local solar laws call for companies to submit a decommissioning plan to prevent projects from being abandoned without sites being properly cleaned up.

“Cortlandville took a very robust and assertive approach to dealing with solar farms,” DelVecchio said. “It's a very detailed, lengthy ordinance that was put together and if you read through it, you'll see that all of your concerns are addressed.”

DelVecchio noted the RIC project is the first one that has been submitted to the town for review post adoption of the solar ordinance.

“I'm surprised that we only have one application so far,” he said. “It may be the case that there is only one because Cortlandville’s ordinance is so robust. When companies that are given these dollars come to the town, the first thing they do is they review the ordinance and they have to see what the rules are to play by.”

Board member Greg Leach, the only “no” vote on the aquifer protection permit item, said he was concerned about the project.

“The company may have addressed everything, but did they address talking to the neighbors?,” he wondered.

Town supervisor Tom Williams chimed in on community input and concerns.

“I've said this a few times. You can be proposing a one-solar panel farm on the back side of some mountain in Nepal,” he said. “As remote an area as you can get, and there might be one sheep farmer who raises four sheep a year. Should his rights be violated any more than somebody on Main Street?”