WATERLOO — Lack of information and transparency. Worries about property values and the environment.
Those are some of the concerns being expressed by a group living adjacent to or near the site for the proposed Trelina Solar Energy Center that would border Packwood and Serven roads and Pre-Emption Street in the west end of this Seneca County town. The project is scheduled to go through the Article 10 process before the New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment.
Four residents met recently to discuss their fears. Only three wanted to be identified; the other listed concerns on a piece of paper.
Many neighbors are members of the Packwood, Serven and Pre-Emption Neighborhood Association, an official party to the siting process. However, while the town was awarded intervenor funds that will allow it to hire experts to examine the project, the association was not given any money to do the same.
David Guererri of Pre-Emption Street said Trelina has not indicated what type of solar panels it plans to install on about 250 acres of farmland being leased from the Oese-Siegel family.
“At least three of these panel manufacturers use heat-transferring fluid that our research has found to be very toxic,” Guererri said. “What if they leak? The fluid could get into groundwater, and I have a good well that I don’t want contaminated.”
Guererri also questioned the impact of the solar panels on wildlife, while he and others believe the impact on their property values could be detrimental.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll take a hit. We’re just not sure how much,” Guererri said. “We’ve found that property values on Route 14A in the town of Seneca, where several solar farms are, have dropped 28%.
“I have no problem with solar power — most of us don’t have a problem with that — but the developer is not providing a lot of details,” Guererri added.
The group also questions how much tax revenue the project will generate, noting that no one has been forthcoming about a possible host agreement or payment-in-lieu-of-taxes pact that may be in the works.
“The neighbors impacted by this should be part of those talks,” Packwood Road resident Randy Neth said. “I’m concerned about the short- and long-term environmental impacts. Who will clean up after these systems run their course in 25 or 30 years? Have they set aside money for that? Who knows.”
Guererri said that a better location for such a project is vacant land adjacent to the New York State Thruway.
“We are already between two landfills,” Guererri said. “We don’t feel they care about the Finger Lakes in siting these things.”
The Packwood Road resident who did not want to be identified said he was asked to apply for one of the two ad hoc local seats on the seven-member siting board that will review the project.
“The process for approval as an ad hoc member of the siting board is unnecessarily complex and intrusive,” the resident wrote. “It discourages interested citizens from completing the required forms for consideration.
“At the local level, there has been very little information regarding the project provided by the town,” the resident continued. “Informational sessions were not held due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but no other efforts have been made to inform people of the project, including newsletters.”
“Trelina said they want to get the information out, but then they don’t give it to us,” Guererri added. “We don’t always get straight answers.”
The group is confident the two ad hoc members on the board — Rich Swinehart and Joe Wukitsch, both of Packwood Road — will represent their interests well.
Guererri said he knows of no one who holds any ill will toward the Oese-Siegel family for leasing their land to Trelina.
The project would consist of commercial-scale solar arrays about 10 feet tall; access roads; electric collection lines, some buried and others possibly overhead; a collection substation; and electrical interconnection facilities. There would be a 115 kilovolt switch yard that will be transferred to New York State Electric & Gas’ existing Border City transmission line to own and operate.