A California-based renewable energy company with global headquarters in Paris is proposing to build a utility-scale solar farm on nearly 2,000 acres in the towns of Galen and Rose that could power up to 70,000 homes.
The estimated cost to build what would be one of the largest solar-energy facilities in the nation: $300 million.
EDF Renewables North America is calling the 350-megawatt development the Rosalen Solar project, and it is hoping to be one of the large-scale solar projects to be selected this year by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
NYSERDA offers significant financial incentives for large-scale renewable energy projects as part of the state’s efforts to get 70 percent of its electricity supply from renewable energy by 2030.
Rose Supervisor Kenan Baldridge said a number of small-scale solar projects are in the works in Wayne County, but what is being proposed in his town and the neighbor to the south, Galen, is much different.
“This is definitely industrial-scale,” Baldridge said. “These are not your backyard solar panels.”
Kevin Campbell, development manager of EDF Renewables, said the project has been submitted to NYSERDA for review, and if approved, construction would begin somewhere in the 2023-24 time-frame.
He said EDF projects Rosalen Solar would create more than 300 jobs during the construction period, which would take one to two years.
Unlike small-scale solar projects that generally serve a small customer base, Campbell said, “We’re selling our energy directly to the (power) grid.”
That “grid” runs through Galen in the form of 345-kilovolt transmission lines that run across the state. Without access to such transmission lines, a project of this scale would not be feasible, said Campbell.
Brian Pincelli, who heads economic development in Wayne County, told the Industrial Development Agency board Friday that that those high-capacity lines are “enticing to solar developers.”
Campbell said other reasons why the company targeted the Rose/Galen site is the availability of large swaths of cleared land that is generally being used for farming. He said the company has had discussions with leaders in Galen and Rose and is in the process of securing leases of at least 30 years with property owners.
“We’ve been approaching landowners for a few months now,” he said.
EDF has a significant presence in New York, where the company has built, or is in the process of building, a number of solar farms.
One of its largest is a 170-megawatt solar operation to be built in Mount Morris, Livingston County, that was a NYSERDA winner in 2018.
And while the proposed 350-watt solar project proposed for Galen and Rose may be a relatively new thing, large-scale solar is not uncommon in other parts of the country, Campbell said.
“There are large projects like this in Texas, California,” he said.
Baldridge said solar farms are a permitted use on land zoned for agriculture, and he sees it as simply an alternative product.
“The farmland produces a different crop (electricity), and it produces it for a (specific) period of time,” said Baldridge.
Most of the property eyed for the development, which would straddle Route 414 north of Clyde, is farmland, and Campbell emphasized that EDF is looking at ways to find agricultural uses amid the massive number of solar panels that will be spread across nearly 2,000 acres.
He pointed to a project near Ottawa, Canada, where bee-pollinating and sheep grazing are integrated into a 200-acre solar farm.
“I think it’s a model we’re trying to replicate,” Campbell said. “We’re trying to find ways to make the most of the land we are utilizing.”
While Campbell noted the job creation during construction, there also will be permanent positions for those responsible for operation and maintenance of the solar-power site, assuming the project gets NYSERDA approval.
As part of an effort by the state to encourage renewable energy, all solar projects are subject to local tax-abatement plans that include PILOTs — or payments in lieu of taxes. In essence, they are agreements between municipalities and solar developers that reduce the taxable value of the projects over the course of a specified number of years.
Pincelli noted that the county has boilerplate PILOTs for small-scale solar, defined as up to 7.5 megawatts. Added to the county’s standard PILOT is a yearly host-benefit payment of $25,000 for the municipality where the solar farm is located. For a solar project in Wolcott, Pincelli was able to secure $50,000 for the town.
However, for a project such as the one proposed in Galen and Rose, Pincelli said, “The math gets a lot different.”
Just what that math is will be the topic of upcoming negotiations.
Baldridge said “detailed discussions about the PILOT are premature, as the project is only now beginning and is still only on paper. … We will be working in coordination with the county and school district on any PILOT. I suspect Galen will make its own on the same basis, as a different town and school district would be involved. We will undoubtedly be in discussion with Galen, as neither town would want to miss out on any benefits offered to the other town.”
Baldridge said Rose will be using the PILOT agreement from the 170-megawatt Mount Morris solar project EDF is building “as an information base and will take it from there.”
The PILOT revenue would be above what the town generates from the land for traditional agricultural use, Baldridge added.
The host-benefit agreement would likely be much larger than the ones for small-scale solar offered by the county, Pincelli and Baldridge noted.
“We would be looking for a lot more,” Baldridge said.
Galen’s Steve Groat said he’s taking a cautious approach to the project, which would take up significantly more acreage in his town than in Rose. He also is not sure his town’s farmers are on board.
“The town of Galen is currently in the process of updating the town solar zoning law,” he said by email. “A project of this size is a totally new concept and it will require an extreme amount of planning. The underlying factor is the willingness of the landowners and the local agriculture community to sign long-term agreements. I’m not sure that our dedicated farmers want to sell out for the new concept of creating revenue. These hard-working people have a great deal of pride and may not want to give up their family tradition.”
Groat said “the elimination of farmland on such a large scale could negatively impact other agriculture support vendors and employment. At this point, we are planning for the future and waiting to see what the landowners decide to do.”
As for what happens to the solar farm at the end of 30 years, Baldridge said the town has regulations on the books that include provisions to ensure the solar equipment is removed at the end of the 30-year period or whenever decommissioning occurs.
Groat wants a decommissioning plan that protects his town.
“During our initial meeting with the development group, it was pointed out that a decommissioning agreement would not be included until the 18th year of a potential 30-year contract,” he said. “I personally do not feel comfortable without that provision included upfront.”
A public meeting is planned in August to provide more information about the project and to get feedback from the communities.