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Lewiston Town Board introduces moratorium on solar projects

Sat, Nov 2nd 2019 07:00 am

Capacity of town’s electrical substations called into question

By Michael DePietro

Amid public outcry against the influx of new solar farms in the town, the Lewiston Town Board introduced a moratorium that would temporarily halt new proposals for industrial-scale solar facilities in the area for six months. The moratorium is set to be voted on following a newly scheduled public hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14.

Per the announcement, the moratorium would allow the board to ensure “adequate restrictions and regulations are in place as may be necessary to promote and preserve the health, safety and welfare of the Town of Lewiston and its citizens.”

The moratorium would not affect any existing or previously proposed solar facilities that have already received town approval.

What’s more, due to power constraints in the town, the situation could be tapping itself out soon.

Marc Kenward of the engineering firm Erdman Anthony handed out a list of answers and potential solutions to questions and concerns that were raised by residents at a public hearing Oct. 17 regarding a proposed project at 4352 Williams Road. Chief among these concerns was how many industrial-scale solar facilities the town could expect, given the capacity of Lewiston’s electrical substations.

Citing information from National Grid, the handout said that, while the exact capacity for the substation located on Swann Road (regarded as having the “highest or most sought-after capacity”) is “not certain at this time,” the 29 Mw “in queue” from solar projects in the area, including 15 Mw from sites in the Town of Porter and 14 Mw from the Town of Lewiston, “exceeds the substation’s capacity.” Calling it a matter of “first come, first serve,” Kenward said, “Once the substation’s capacity is reached, other remaining potential sites would be deemed infeasible and dropped from consideration.”

Of course, National Grid could simply upgrade the site’s capacity to allow for more input. However, Borrego Solar representative Lindsey McEntire said National Grid isn’t likely to do that.

 “Any further updates to the circuit going into Lewiston will not occur. That’s the feedback they’ve given us on our projects,” she said.

Councilman William Geiben told the board he wanted to get that statement in writing from National Grid. McEntire insisted she would obtain it while speaking with Borrego about ongoing projects.

Near meeting’s end, resident Pauline Glasgow commended the board’s decision to consider a moratorium, but said members, “Let the horse out of the barn.”

Board members were quick to defend their position on adopting the solar law, citing a lack of public input or criticism as a determining factor.

“Not one person spoke out against it. Nobody spoke for it, nobody spoke against it,” Geiben said. “So we established a solar law. Now we’ve listened to what everybody has to say, and now we’re pulling the reins back.”

Councilman John Jacoby added, “We didn’t pull the solar law out of thin air. We reviewed Grand Island, Wheatfield, informally a couple other communities, and ours is at least as stringent – possibly more so – than these other communities. By design, we did that to protect the citizens.”

The board ultimately took no action regarding the proposed site at 4352 Williams Road. Instead, the plan will be reevaluated based on Erdman Anthony’s concessions and updates. The matter will be addressed at the Nov. 14 meeting.

Lattice Tower

The Town Board approved a local law amendment in regard to “Chapter 30 – Towers” to allow for the construction of an emergency radio tower on property outside the Town of Lewiston Highway Department building. The only exception to the current proposal involved access roads leading to the site that will need to be adjusted.

Highway Superintendent, Dave J. Trane noted the current plan was based on an outdated model of the area and would require adjustment. He said he would address it with the construction company.

“I’m sure they’ll make an exception, because they won’t be able to get to (the site),” he said.

After the vote, Jacoby addressed the media directly, noting how long the proposal has taken to reach this point.

“We had a lot of hands in this pot,” he said. “We got the county, we got the sheriffs, we got all these people in there; we’re trying to accommodate a new building being built at the same time, and a roadway, and there’s a lot of stuff involved. So, if there’s anyone who looks like a chicken with their head cut off, it’s me, not the rest of these people up here. It’s kind of my first go at something like this.

Lewiston Police Chief Frank Previte said the tower was “essential,” as the current communications issues in the area were detrimental to officer safety.

“We even had an issue (recently) with one officer in the front yard, and one in the backyard, and they can’t talk to each other on the radio. That’s an issue,” he said. “They can’t talk to dispatch. If something went wrong, they can’t call for help.”

The towers would not only aid the LPD, but many of the emergency service companies in the area.

While no definitive date was given for construction to begin, Supervisor Steve Broderick noted the LPD expressed hope the project could be completed by the end of November.

Budget Update

The board approved the preliminary town budget for fiscal year 2020 as presented by Town Finance/Budget Director Jacqueline Agnello. Afterward, she made the request for a public hearing regarding the budget, which will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7.

Afterward, Agnello announced budget revisions. The first of which was to move $323 from the town parks personnel budget to the B fund unemployment insurance budget to cover unemployment for a parks department employee. The second was $315 from the police personnel budget to the police equipment budget to cover equipment purchases.

Wrapping up, Parks Department Superintendent Michael Dashineau announced the Lewiston Family Ice Rink will officially open at Academy Park on Friday, Nov. 22, and operate run until Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020.

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