Solar project may land at Dunkirk airport

Chautauqua County officials are considering beginning the process to have a large solar project installed at the Dunkirk airport.

On Wednesday’s county legislature agenda is a Memorandum of Understanding between the county and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to conduct a feasibility assessment for the development of a utility-scale solar photovoltaic renewable energy project at the Dunkirk airport, which sits in the town of Sheridan.

During the legislature’s Audit and Control Committee meeting last week, a representative with NYSERTA discussed the proposal.

Gillian Black works with NYSERTA’s Build-Ready Program, which looks at developing renewable energy projects on underutilized sites, which are often too risky for private industries. Target sites include landfills, brownfields, former commercial industrial sites, and parking lots.

Once the project is feasible, NYSERTA sells it to a private sector operator through some sort of competitive bid. “We bring revenue where there typically has not been revenue in the past,” Black said.

Most of the solar projects proposed in Chautauqua County are typically 5 megawatt or smaller. Black said their projects are generally larger than 5 megawatt when possible.

They also look at energy storage. Black said right now New York is developing a statewide energy storage incentive program, which will be key in order to get battery storage in place.

Harrison Kim with NYSERTA said they are looking at constructing a 25-megawatt solar project with battery storage at the Dunkirk airport. There’s about 168 acres of land available.

Kim said in order for this to be built, they also approached neighboring properties to the airport to be part of the project.

He said the airport land would likely not hold the battery storage. That would be placed somewhere else.

Kim said their tentative design has been reviewed by the Federal Aviation Administration.

He added the project, including the transmission lines, would have no impact to the airport or the runway.

Kim said because the Dunkirk airport does not have a traffic control tower, the risk of glare is acceptable to the FAA.

County Airports Manager Shannon Fischer said a glare study will still need to be done for pilots, to ensure their safety.

Kim said although the initial plans show this could be viable at the airport, additional studies are needed. He said because of this, NYSERTA is seeking an MOU from the county regarding a solar project at the Dunkirk airport, so they can continue their due diligence studies.

According to Kim, they did look at constructing a solar project at the county landfill and at the Jamestown airport, but those sites have difficult interconnection challenges.

Solar projects at airports have occurred elsewhere. Kim noted that their consultants have designed a 50 megawatt solar project in Sanford, Maine at the airport there.

Fischer said the land that is being examined by NYSERTA cannot be developed, which is why it’s being considered for the solar arrays. They have a 20-year plan for the airport and those plans don’t have any need for the land being considered, including future runways or additional buildings.

Kim said none of the neighboring properties that would need to be added are agricultural.

Black noted that any host community agreements will likely be payments split between the county, the town and the school district. Those topics would be dealt with during negotiations and would involve the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency.

The lease would likely be for 20 years, with three additional 5-year terms.

During the Audit and Control Committee meeting, Legislator Dan Pavlock, R-Ellington, voted against the MOU.

The full legislature must approve the MOU next.

Even if the legislature approves the MOU, Fischer said at some point they will be back before the legislature for additional approvals.

No timeline was given at the meeting of any future construction goals.


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