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Planners discuss preliminary response to solar farms

The idea of a commercial solar farm might sound foreign in a county — like Warren — that is heavily forested.

But there’s been enough discussion about possibilities here that county officials are exploring whether the county needs regulations to manage such development.

Zoning Officer Michael Lyon told the county’s Planning Commission on Tuesday night that he’s not talking about solar panels that people mount on their roofs or in their backyards.

Commercial solar farms, he said, are “usually looking at large tracts, 50, 100 150 acres. They’re enormous.”

He said he’s been approached three times in the last six or eight months about these farms and that he’s in the beginning stages of exploring a solar ordinance.

Commission member Jeff Zariczny said power companies are paying carbon taxes on energy now and that these farms are a means of working around the tax issue.

Lyon said he’s been participating in webinars on the subject and reached out to PJM — the firm that oversees the regional power grid.

He said the firm told him there are two or three projects in the “exploratory” or “planning phase.”

“They won’t disclose any information to you,” he said, though he suggested those projects might be looking at land in Brokenstraw and Columbus townships based on “speculation I could gleen out of that.”

County Planner Dan Glotz said they’re reviewing model ordinances from other places but said that effort is “exploratory.”

“(We are) not getting a lot of information from the companies themselves,” he said, noting the ordinance would be an attempt to try to be ready for it.”

While the idea of a commercial solar farm might sound foreign in Warren County, it isn’t to our neighbors in Chautauqua County to the north.

ConnectGen, which is based in Houston, is developing a large-scale solar and storage project in South Ripley along Sherman Road. The company expects to install up to 270 megawatts of solar with a 20 MW battery storage component in the area, which has the potential to power over 60,000 homes in New York state annually. The target commercial operation date is in late 2023.

The project is expected to cost around $348 million to construct.

Another project includes construction of a 5-megawatt A/C solar powered electrical generation facility (solar farm) on 31.14 acres of vacant unfarmed land located in the town of Hanover.

Lyon wasn’t sure when something might come back before the commission for consideration.

“There’s a lot to be done,” he said, noting he is in the “very, very beginning of looking at stuff.”

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