The Cortland city planning commission got a look Monday night at what could be the city’s first ground-mounted commercial solar project.
The project, backed by Source Renewables, a Greenwich, Conn.- based company, would entail a 5-megawatt project on 44 acres off Locust Avenue in the city, and another 5-megawatt project on 24 acres just over the city limit in Cortlandville, said Andrew Day, the founder of Source Renewables.
Day said his company has signed a purchase agreement with the property owners, the Gunzenhauser family. If Source Renewables succeeds in securing approvals for its projects, then the company will buy the property, he said.
The project would join half a dozen other commercial solar installations either under construction or in development in Cortland County:
- A 90-megawatt, $90 million project proposed for Homer, Cortlandville and Solon.
- A $22.1 million, 20-megawatt project in Willet.
- A $27 million, 15-megawatt project in Lapeer.
- A project of up to 20 megawatts in Cincinnatus.
- Two 5-megawatt projects on Riley Road in Cortlandville.
- At least five, and possibly six, projects on properties owned by Gutchess Lumber in Cortlandville.
The Cortland part of the proposed Source Renewables project will return to the planning board next month; the commission tabled the proposal Monday night. Representatives of Source Renewables will return to ask for a use variance and site plan review at the commission’s March 23 meeting.
Currently a ground-mounted solar project is not an allowed use in a residential zone, said Dan Walker, an engineer with LaBella Associates, who is working on the project.
The planning commissioners, however, seemed amenable to the proposal. All six of them present Monday night nodded or signaled approval when chairman Joe McMahon took an unofficial straw poll on the project.
Day said the two projects could proceed independently — if one is turned down, but the other is approved, the approved project will still be built.
While the Gunzenhauser property is zoned as R-1 in the city, it is located right next to Interstate 81, and that makes its undesirable for development for the road noise alone, said planning commissioner Jim Reeners.
“It’s vacant for a very good reason,” Reeners said.
Day said the Gunzenhauser family has tried to sell the property for years without success. He also noted the slope of the property and the presence of bedrock not far beneath the soil as other reasons it is not attractive for residential development. It is also relatively landlocked, with one access point off Locust Avenue in Cortlandville. Day said he was also trying to obtain access behind Hanson Aggregates at 6 Locust Ave.
But none of these factors negatively affect the property’s potential for use as a solar project, he said, adding that the south-facing slope is perfect for that use.
Day said his company plans to apply for a payment in lieu of taxes agreement from the Cortland County Industrial Development Agency.
The proposed project would offer discounted electricity to about 1,000 nearby customers, Day said.
Source Renewables has built projects that generate more than 60 megawatts of electricity and is currently developing projects that generate more than 300 megawatts, according to the company web site.