WATERLOO — For more than 90 minutes Monday, residents questioned a Trelina Solar Energy Center official about the $110 million project proposed for the Packwood-Serven Road area of the town.
Kris Scornavacca, project director for NextEra Energy of Juno Beach, Fla., was asked about the impact the 80 megawatt project would have on property values along with other topics, such as protective screening efforts, transparency and environmental and financial aspects.
“This project has challenges and questions such as loss of farm land, impacts on our way of life, a possible decrease in property values and claims that it will mean millions of dollars to the town,” said Joe Wukitsch of Packwood Road, one of two ad hoc local members of the siting board.
“The application is undergoing review by the state agencies and have considered numerous studies related to the project,” Scornavacca said.
Trelina’s application for a certificate of public need and environmental compatibility is being reviewed by the New York State Board of Electric Generation Siting and the Environment, a seven-member body that includes Wukitsch and Richard Swinehart of Packwood Road, two non-voting, ad hoc local members.
The siting board will make a recommendation on the certificate to the administrative law judge assigned to the case by Dec. 7.
“There is a host community benefits agreement with the town that provides new revenue to the town and we have applied to the Seneca County IDA for a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes),” Scornavacca added. “Together, they will increase the amount of property taxes generated by the project by some $425,000 a year for the 20 to 25 years life of the project.”
Wukitsch cited a recent study that indicates solar panels contribute to global climate change by the heat they generate.
“When there are many acres of land under the panels, they say the heat will contribute to climate change. What are you doing to mitigate that?” he asked.
Scornavacca said the state agencies are reviewing the project design and are are considering numerous studies related to the project.
“If we get a certificate, then we must follow certificate conditions that would deal with that issue, and others, that come up,” he said. “There can be changes to the design, development and operation of the facility.”
Wukitsch referred to an April 2021 newspaper article in which Scornavacca was quoted as saying he doesn’t believe the solar project will result in a 5 -to-7% drop in values for property around the project.
Scornavacca said the town can use the revenue it receives from Trelina under the host community agreement as it sees fit, including any priorities the town has.
In response to a question about jobs, Scornavacca said construction of the solar facility will involve hiring 100-120 workers, including many electricians, most of whom will be union or those who will be paid prevailing wages.
Wukitsch asked the Town Board if it would vote Monday night to support a request that the state impose a one-year moratorium on solar projects. He said that would give new Gov. Kathy Hochul time to develop her own policies and procedures for solar project review. Supervisor Don Trout said the board would not do that.
“There can be moratorium talk in the future, but we’re not going to pass such a motion tonight,” Trout said.
Rita Cook of Packwood Road said promises were made for public transparency and public meetings for residents, but only two public sessions were conducted in 2019 and nothing has been scheduled since then. Scornavacca said more were planned but the COVID-19 pandemic put that on hold.
“We have been at Town Board meetings to answer questions,” he said. “We have sent out mailings, and we have a website with information.”
Trelina will not increase its current footprint of the project, Scornavacca said. He said it will remain within the 409 acres being leased for the project.
Ann Brown said the project will be close to her home and asked if hedges to shield that view can be considered. Scornavacca said the setback requirements set by the certificate, if granted, would be followed but said vegetative screening of sufficient height is likely. He encouraged people to ask for a company official to visit them to point out their concerns.
Another question was about the composition of the solar panels and whether they contain any chemicals or elements that could cause contamination of the ground and possibly groundwater. Scornavacca said the panels will not be selected until the decision is made on the application, but he said when a panel model is selected, they will be comprised of silicon and will not contain toxic materials, as is required by NextEra Energy Resources policy.