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Westfield Slated As Location For Proposed Solar Facility

A Minnesota-based company is proposing to build a 125-megawatt, solar powered electric generating facility in Westfield.

In February, Empire Solar LLC, a subsidiary of Geronimo Energy LLC, sent documentation to the state Public Service Commission announcing its intention to begin the Article 10 siting process for the project. The project would be constructed on 4,237 acres of land situated near Westfield’s border with Ripley and Chautauqua in the areas of Pigeon Road, Ogden Road and Douglas Road — 2.3 miles southwest of the village of Westfield and 3.3 miles west of the village of Mayville. The Chautauqua Gorge and Chautauqua Creek are east of the proposed site. Roughly 1,500 acres of the site would be needed for the actual solar generation. Additional land provides setbacks from neighboring land uses.

Empire Solar officials estimate the project could power 20,800 households.

“The project will achieve maximum energy output during hot summer afternoons when air conditioner usage is at its highest,” company officials wrote in their filing with the state Public Service Commission. “Increased levels of solar energy production during peak energy usage decrease the need for fossil-fuel-fired energy production, reducing air pollution and power prices during periods of peak energy demand. The project will also provide economic development benefits to host and adjacent communities and neighbors.”

The project will consist of photovoltaic panels installed on low-profile racking systems mounted on poles driven directly into the ground. Inverters, which collect the electricity by the panels and convert it from direct current to alternating current, are spaced throughout the project. The substation will take the power from the inverters and step it up to match the voltage of the electrical grid. A protective fence will surround the project. Temporary laydown and staging areas will be used during construction to store and position vehicles and equipment.

Empire Solar will interconnect to the power grid via a line tap to the existing National Grid South Ripley-Dunkirk 230-kV line and applied for interconnection on Dec. 5, 2019. The company had meetings last year with the state Independent System Operator and National Grid.

“The applicant identified the project area for potential development of a solar project due to access to transmission capacity, relatively few anticipated environmental impacts, available land, and willing participant landowners,” the submission states.

A public open house meeting about the project could be held in the spring with a preliminary scoping document potentially filed in the summer. The Article 10 application could be filed by the fall with Article 10 approval possible by the winter of 2021. If the project follows that timeline, Empire Solar officials expect the project could be up and running in the fall of 2023.

That timeline might be difficult to uphold, though, if the first reaction to the filing is any indicator to the type of questions that will be asked in the coming months.

DEC officials also ask the Empire Solar officials amend their filing to show public fishing rights easements along Chautauqua Creek, show the Chautauqua Gorge state forest, the location of the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt State Heritage Area, local waterfront revitalization program areas and the location of the proposed substation. DEC officials also suggested adding dozens of people to the proposed stakeholder list.

“DPS staff recommends that initial outreach with NYSDEC Region 9 staff should address the following: NYSDEC public fishing rights easements exist along the Chautauqua Creek. These easements are located within the vicinity of the proposed project, specifically south of the Village of Westfield and along the southeast border of the proposed Project area,” the DEC’s letter states. “Potential impacts to recreational opportunities, special management zones, and scenic vistas in the Chautauqua Gorge State Forest should be identified. Input from Chautauqua Unit Management Plan members should be considered as part of the project outreach and involvement efforts.”

State Department of Environmental Conservation officials responded to Empire Solar’s initial filing on Monday (March 16) and asked that the company better describe the photovoltaic panels that would be used, including the anticipated height of each panel and if tracking technology will be used; provide an estimated dollar amount of municipal revenues and the number of temporary, part-time and full-time jobs the project could create; provide additional information about the substation discussed in the plan and incorporate the locations into maps in the filing; increase the study area the company is proposing; consider an additional document repository that isn’t in the village of Westfield; and identify all Amish and Mennonite communities inside the study area and describe how the company will communicate with them.

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