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Public hearing gets lively on Lewiston solar law revision

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Fri, Dec 18th 2020 07:00 am

By Terry Duffy

Editor-in-Chief

As the moratorium on its solar energy law continues, the Town of Lewiston held a lively public hearing Monday.

At issue were modifications to Article 27 of the town’s zoning code, covering setbacks and screening for future solar energy systems.

In a nutshell, not too much has changed on public opinion toward solar installations in the town, particularly so for those under consideration in rural residential areas. Monday’s public hearing, presented in a limited fashion at Town Hall to adhere to COVID-19 social distancing protocols, and held via Zoom and Facebook, featured roughly a dozen who spoke.

Nearly all who addressed the board over the roughly half-hour period are opposed to solar projects. Included were a number of Moore Road residents who expressed disfavor to the board for its allowing construction of the 29-acre utility-scale solar energy facility on nearly 73 acres of land owned by Donald and Janice Laurie at 2643 Moore Road. Complaints focused primarily on the nature of construction for that project, the impact of truck traffic and the location of a solar plant in relation to neighboring properties and aesthetics.

Resident Janet Fras told the board she and neighboring residents, “are still trying to stop the building of a second solar project on our road.”

Discussing the problems associated with the first project, she told the board, “many massive dump trucks, flatbed trucks unloading heavy construction equipment, tractor trailers were constantly down our road. There was continuous air and noise pollution.”

Duane Colter and Larry Fera, likewise, raised issue with the truck traffic, mentioning the road’s size and traffic safety.

A number of Swann Road residents who spoke questioned screening and setback issues, noting the current solar facility on Swann Road owned by town Building Inspector Tim Masters.

Also raised was the board’s reasoning of even allowing solar installations in rural residential areas, arguing the town should limit them to industrial zoned areas.

Commenting in favor of solar installations and energy storage in the town was Chris Georgiadis, a project developer with NextEra Energy Resources of Juno Beach, Florida. He said NextEra is the company that is currently operating the Moore Road Solar facility owned by the Lauries, and is working with Moore Road property owner Kevin Thompson to develop a proposed/energy storage facility called Niagara Solar at that location.

The town’s revised local law proposal does not allow for the energy storage (battery storage) feature in rural residential areas, but rather only for industrial zoned areas. NextEra is considering both the existing Moore Road Solar facility and the proposed Niagara Solar facility for such an operation. In his remarks, Georgiadis spoke in support for the town’s permitting of both.

Also speaking in favor was Thompson, who told the board, “I’m here to lend my support to it, and I do sympathize with people who are expressing their concerns.

“I want to make it clear that the first solar farm that they’re talking about, we had nothing to do with. This is a totally new project; we purposely tried to specify (its location). … Our property is over a mile long, between Moore Road and Ridge Road.”

Thompson said he tried to specify that, “no solar panel be located within a thousand feet of either road,” and shielded by old growth trees.

“If a previous solar farm failed to camouflage their project properly; I don’t think it’s necessarily the board’s fault. Possibly the board can hold them responsible,” he said. “I think there’s some misinformation being passed around here, and I also wish that this project not be lumped into another project (that was) improperly planned and executed.”

Later, Supervisor Steve Broderick said the Town Board was still in the process of reviewing comments and working with the town attorney and other town officials on the proposed solar law revisions.

No board action was taken on the measure.

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