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Eight Acres of Glass

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Skidmore’s new project preceded by community discussion in Greenfield

*Note: I am a supporter of solar panels, but I tried to write as unbiased as possible and still answer some questions I heard at the town hearing.

On the 30th of October, Greenfield held the 17th overall meeting about the Skidmore Solar project. Once the hearing was called into order, Stephanie Faradino went to the podium to speak for Skidmore.

Skidmore’s plan for its 120 acre property on Denton Rd. is as follows. Only eight of the acres in the Northeast corner will be used for their new solar farm. This site cannot be expanded in the future, but a decommissioning bond will exist to take the farm down if anything was to happen. As for the surrounding area of 187 acres, most are commercial, and twenty-two acres are residential properties. There will be a special use permit that will allow a maximum of 100 people on the site. The solar farm is being purchased by a grant given to Skidmore from NYSERDA, and being installed by a company named Dynamic Electric. The grant was not specific on the location of the panels, but the main campus and the equestrian center were not appropriate for the array. However, this is not a commercial venture. 12% of Skidmore’s energy is going to be supplied by these panels, which will be monitored through the electrical grid. Even though the residents have no gains (or losses) from this project, Skidmore will make payments to the town of Greenfield over the panels’ twenty year lifetime. If the project is approved, the panels will be delivered in December, and up and running by April of 2014. Skidmore also assessed the environmental impact of the proposed of array.

Many of the residents have concerns about pollution and the effect on their community. Solar panels do not produce large amounts of noise; the estimated rate is fifty-five decibels, or softer than a person speaking in a normal conversation. The nearest residential dwelling 1000 feet away will barely be able to tell the panels are working. Another concern is solar glare, which is a legitimate concern; solar panels near roads have been known to cause glare on drivers’ eyes, and with the amount of traffic on Denton Rd, that would be a serious issue. However, the panels will be surround by a six-foot-high cedar fence, surround by landscaping to make them blend in with the natural surroundings. The landscaping will be maintained throughout the array’s twenty year lifespan from a $25,000 bond. Not only will there be no visible glare from the road, the array will be completely invisible to any passers-by. The Department of Environmental Conservation and the Army Corps of Engineers have surveyed the site for potential hazards to the trout brook nearby. When water runs off of solar panels in the daytime, the water is heated because of the heat of the sun hitting the panel. If too much hot water is put into the trout brook, it could dissolve the oxygen out of the water and kill the fish. That is true, however, the water will most likely just seep into the ground. Also, the panels are sealed, so chemicals will not be transmitted into the water.  A lot of speakers at the hearing made good points about the project.

It was clear that when everyone got up to speak, the debate was not against sustainability and going green. Most residents were opposed to the ‘health risks’, and the prospect of an industrial project in their community. At the beginning of the meeting, there for four letters in support, eight letters against, and one email against the Skidmore project. One of the most memorable speakers was a former Air Force Pilot and resident of Wilton Road. He told a story about his latest visit to the Middle East, where he was loading ten soldiers’ bodies into their plane. It was then that he made a promise to himself that he would do everything in his power to protect future generations from fighting over dwindling resources like oil. New York’s main power sources are coal, nuclear, and natural gas, and it would be nice to make solar one of those main sources. An Albany attorney, hired by the people against the project, claimed that the project was not actually a Skidmore project. It was actually a Dynamic Electric project to weasel their way into Greenfield to put up more solar farms. He claimed if it was truly a NYSERDA or Dynamic project, why didn’t they present the project? Skidmore representatives have presented the project and have been very accommodating with the Town of Greenfield in presenting their project. A resident against the project was concerned about how it’ll affect his taxes and his community. Another resident against the project outline her views very nicely. She was against the project for four reasons; the power will only run 11% of the time so the panels are useless, it would be an industrial project, irregularities, and intermittent use. Yes, it is true that panels can only produce power for certain hours due to sunlight and our latitude. However, the panels will produce kilowatts of power, making them very efficient in a large group when one panel wouldn’t be as effective. The last speaker I heard made a very good point about Skidmore giving back to the community.

Skidmore and Greenfield have been talking about this project for a while, and there are a few suggestions I heard from residents. The woman I mentioned previously suggested a Skidmore scholarship for Greenfield residents. I agree with that, but take it one step further, and make it for Greenfield residents that are interested in sustainable technology. In my personal opinion, the Skidmore panels should be a learning tool for everyone; residents and students. The residents should use this project to inspire their children to change the world, not divide their community. This is a Skidmore venture, driven by their desire to go green and reduce their impact on the planet. Everyone should be inspired to keep the green in Greenfield.

Alison Eberhardt is a senior at Saratoga Springs HS. She is interested in sustainability issues, especially in the Adirondacks. She plans to pursue an Architecture degree next year. She may be contacted by commenting on this blog or privately through member email.

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