Editor’s note: This first appeared in Adirondack Explorer’s March/April 2022 issue, in its ongoing “It’s Debatable” column. Click here to subscribe. The topic: Solar projects in the Adirondacks.
Solar projects in the Adirondack Park? Absolutely
Should the Adirondack Park be used for large solar projects? Yes! Clean, renewable energy belongs anywhere energy is consumed. That doesn’t mean renewable energy projects should be recklessly sited, and they certainly don’t belong—and can’t be sited—in the Forest Preserve. But 56% (3.6 million acres) of the Adirondack Park is privately owned, and development on most of that land is also subject to review by the Adirondack Park Agency (APA). The Adirondack Park itself is a grand experiment in achieving sustainability. So, generating clean energy that does not pollute the air or increase climate warming greenhouse gases must be part of the picture. And there’s more. Clean, renewable power reduces energy bills, provides community benefits, helps create new jobs and keeps our energy dollars from going to other states and countries.
Although it is not a large-scale project, the 2-megawatt Saranac Community Solar array completed last year occupies about 10 acres of land and will generate enough electricity for about 200 homes and businesses, with 40% of the power devoted to Adirondack Health, the community’s largest employer. The project will displace nearly 1,700 tons of CO2, lower subscribers’ energy bills and attract pollinators to the wildflowers planted underneath the solar panels. This array, at a site previously targeted by Walmart for a superstore, generates, instead of uses, energy and has far fewer impacts to aesthetics and community character.
Another example is the large-scale 20-megawatt solar project in the Town of Ticonderoga, which the APA approved at its October meeting. This grouping will include up-to-date ground-mounted solar panels that pivot to track the sun. And they have been sensitively sited to minimize visibility on flat territory. It requires very little tree cutting and will be screened by native vegetation and allow wildlife to pass underneath the fencing. Electrical cabling and transmission lines will be buried including under a small wetland to avoid impacts. And, since a portion of the site was an orchard and is lightly contaminated with arsenic, it would have been difficult to put to some other safe, productive, taxable use. Town residents overwhelmingly support the project, which will contribute $2,000 per MW in payments in lieu of taxes or about $40,000 annually to the local coffers (with a 2%/year escalator).
Solar projects belong within the Blue Line if properly designed and sited in a way that respects the Adirondack Park’s special status and the local community’s needs.
Joe Martens is former Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and former Director of the New York Offshore Wind Alliance
Industrial power in the park. Not here! (from a 2021 Explorer interview)
The whole concept of the park is to create a vision for the entire 6 million plus acres and not just protect here and there. The idea that we’re going to put industrial solar facilities in farmland in the biggest and most important nature preserve in the lower 48 is absurd. I am just appalled by that and think it is an atrocious decision and completely inconsistent with the vision of the park of the last 140 years.
The park’s future has been damaged by the virtuous righteousness of a handful today including those who will make significant profits. The project for Moriah is outrageous—to take 60 plus acres of beautiful farmland for an industrial solar energy generating facility. Now, I understand global warming. It’s hot. It’s hotter than it should be and it’s getting warmer. Human activity is part of that. But it’s a big country. It’s a big state. It’s a big world. Why act in the political correctness of the moment?
The Adirondack Park Agency lacks an intelligent strategy for solar installations. I don’t think they should be allowing them but the APA should at least have a broad vision on solar development as opposed to just letting developers come in willy-nilly.
I am furious about it. There’s limited farmland in the park and that’s where they’re going to go—not in swamps or mountains or forest. And you can’t compete. Farmland is worth a lot more generating energy, when you get all the government subsidies, than it is growing hay or something and it’s hard to farm in the Adirondacks.
But it destroys the habitat and hurts wildlife. It takes away the ability to view things in a natural way. It is utterly inappropriate in the Adirondack Park. This is a small park in the context of the earth and it should be protected and not damaged by some misguided sense that somehow that’s going to have a significant impact on local carbon emissions.
Solar power is the future not just of the country but of the world. It’s going to get more efficient. It’s going to be cheaper than fossil fuel power. Build the solar farms. It’s part of what I do in my work. But not in the park.
George E. Pataki, New York governor 1995–2006, senior counsel, Essex homeowner
Photo by Mike Lynch/Adirondack Explorer