After a 15-minute public hearing Monday night on a proposed commercial solar farm in Solon, the town supervisor told more than 20 residents that it was only the beginning of a long process in which they would have to decide the town’s future.
“We all know each other,” Stephen Furlin told them. “We know each other by name.”
Furlin said the format of Monday’s public hearing did not allow town officials an opportunity to respond to concerns raised about the 90-megawatt, but that would happen during more informal workshop meetings that have yet to be scheduled.
“We’ll keep Solon Solon. We’ll put in industry. We have to know what the people want,” Furlin explained after the meeting.
EDF Renewables wants to build the $90 million, 600-acre project in several towns, including Solon. The panels would be ground-mounted, about 7 to 8 feet high and screened by vegetation, according to information the company has provided. It would feed its power to the New York Independent System Operator, which in turn would sell it on the open energy market.
The leases on the land would be for 40 years, after which EDF would either renew them or remove its panels and restore the land. Sheep would graze there, to keep the vegetation down.
The project would create about 150 jobs during construction, and two to operate it.
No EDF representatives came to the meeting to discuss its proposed project that would be mostly centered around Soshinsky and Heath roads in Solon and Cortlandville, but with other sites farther north, in Homer. It would generate 90 megawatts, enough to power about 20,600 residences.
Once residents have a chance to hash out their concerns in a more informal venue and the town has a chance to research the proposal before it, the town board will move in the direction residents dictate, Furlin said.
Furlin said the board would actively oppose the project, noting Solon and its neighboring towns successfully defeated a commercial windfarm proposed in the area a few years ago.
However, the three towns’ authority is limited. Because of the project’s size, it’s governed by a state Article X process, overseen by the Public Service Commission. The process requires a variety of safety, environmental and public health safety measures — including consideration of local laws — but leaves final approval in the hands of the state, not the municipalities.
Those who spoke at Monday’s hearing cited concerns about the solar farm project.
Lee Miller, a land owner in Solon and a lawyer, warned about provisions in the contracts offered by the company that would allow commercial wind power projects and she noted the company could obtain leases on the land.
Third-generation farmer John Soshinsky said his lawyer is proposing changes to the contract offered by the company and he would not sign if it allowed for commercial wind farm development or other provisions that he did not support.
Soshinsky urged the town to consider adopting a solar law, as Cortlandville and Homer have done. The laws govern such issues as the types of solar systems that can be installed, where they can be located and their removal after they are no longer in operation. Furlin said he would contact the towns to discuss their laws.
Solon has no zoning regulations.
Homer resident Victor Siegle said the company is offering unfair leases to property owners and low payments to the town. He urged everyone to do their research and demand higher payments if they choose to sign a lease.
But Charbel Karam, who said he owns a camp in Solon and had planned to build a home in town and move out from Cortland, warned that a large corporation would care only about its needs, not those of landowners or the town as a whole.
“This is going to destroy our peace of mind, our neighborhood,” said Karam, who owns the Pita Gourmet restaurant in Cortland. “People have to do the research. … Take your time to learn. They are coming after us because they think we are stupid.”