PORTVILLE — Town of Portville residents learned more Tuesday evening about a 17,400-module solar farm proposed for off East Windfall Road.
Joseph Mendelsohn, project manager with Omni Navitas, a Boston-based company, and Kaitlin McCormick, senior project manager with TRC Companies in Williamsville, presented the proposal to a crowd of about 25.
The project would be built on the existing grade of the property. The solar panel modules would surround a 200-acre wetland.
Mendelsohn said federal guidelines require a 100-foot buffer but the project adds an additional 50 feet and it would be 50 feet from the East Windfall Road. The entire solar farm would be surrounded by an 8-foot chain-link fence, with or without slats, and a series of spruce, cedar and other varieties of trees would be planted around the fence to help conceal the panels but not obstruct sunlight.
There will be a 50-foot gap where the solar panels would be visible due to a roadway into the site.
The panels would be unseen from the road and level-ground properties. They would be 8 1/2 feet at the highest point on the property and a 100-foot buffer would be inside the fence.
All fixtures and equipment, Mendelsohn said, would be ground-mounted and pile-driven. That is important, he said, because unlike wind turbine farms, which require massive, deeply seated concrete pads, solar farms do not. After the typical lifespan of 25-30 years, all equipment, poles and on-ground concrete pads for energy storage units will be removed at Omni Navitas’ expense, according to contract.
He pointed out that reversibility is what makes solar energy so unique, that it can restore the land to its preexisting condition.
The project would connect to existing equipment through National Grid’s Community Solar program, where residents and municipalities would realize a discount for their electric.
Many residents in the crowd are homeowners on the East Windfall or Haydon roads, and Windwood Lane, all of which surround or overlook the proposed solar farm location.
They had a lot of questions, starting with that discount.
While Mendelsohn said it would be 10% for Portville residents, and the discount would eventually expand out from there, that brought a comment from Town Supervisor Tim Emley.
“We won’t do anything with the company until the residents in the immediate area are pleased,” Emley said. He pointed out that perhaps the discount could be larger for those people who “have to look at it” from their property.
“You may want more than 10%,” he told the crowd.
Mendelsohn pointed out that they would do a survey for subscribers.
“Without enough willing subscribers, we can’t go forward with the project,” he said. “It wouldn’t make sense fiscally … most companies use around 5%. We choose to give 10% … because we want to invest back into the community.”
The length of term was renewable over several choices of length of term.
There were questions about property values and what would happen to the discount in the event of the sale of a home. The new property owner would get the same discounted term, Mendelsohn said, while noting that in his experience solar farms had no realizable positive or negative influence.
Emley offered another opinion from local real estate agents, saying their consensus was that out of 10 people shopping for a new home and seeing the solar panels, “five would turn around and drive away.”
Some residents were worried about potential noise from the equipment and the possible danger to resident’s health. The answer was that electromagnetic radiation is present is in very small amounts, approximate to that of a cell phone.
Solar string inverters will generate about 45 decibels, the sound of a running refrigerator. The sound completely diminishes within 200 feet, but that question led to others about the environment, including water contamination, from the crowd.
Bob Fischer, Portville Planning Board president, explained that part of the approval process was to conduct an environmental quality review. That assessment includes the impact of the project on things like water, sight, sound, animals, insects, birds and plant life.
Fischer was asked about another solar farm project in close proximity to the Omni proposal.
“There is a possibility of another developer building another solar farm on the front area of the property,” Fischer said.
Joe Snyder, Cattaraugus County legislator, was there to talk about the payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, agreement that is typically part of such projects.
Speaking of Omni, “You have to remember this is a business project,” Snyder said. He said he doesn’t feel that the PILOT to local municipalities and schools is enough.
“Right now, the Rowe Avenue (Westons Mills) is $5,000 per megawatt rating totaling $25,000 a year.” But according to assessment, he said it should be $2.5 million, which would equal $450,000 each year in taxes, much more that the PILOT payment.
In August, the Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency board of directors voted July 30 to enact a six-month moratorium on new solar farm applications.