Large Westfield Solar Project In Planning Stages

While a proposed 270-megawatt solar project in South Ripley is in the hands of the state for final approval, it’s not the only large-scale solar project the state is considering for construction in Chautauqua County.

There is also the Empire Solar Project, a 125-megawatt solar photovoltaic electric generating facility proposed in the town of Westfield. The project will span about 1,500 acres and plans to connect to the 230 kV South Ripley to Dunkirk line.

Developers say the project is anticipated to positively impact both the environment and the local economy by reducing carbon dioxide emissions by about 160,000 metric tons each year — the equivalent of taking an estimated 34,000 cars off the road — and producing significant tax revenue and other economic benefits for the area. If approved, the project is expected to create more than 250 construction jobs.

Eric Will, a senior manager with AES, said they’re very interested in the Westfield project; however, it has some environmental challenges they’re working through. “There’s a lot of wetlands there,” he said during a phone call.

Unlike the smaller 5-megawatt solar projects that are under consideration by a number of municipalities, Will said this one won’t go before Chautauqua County’s Planning Board and instead will get final approval from the state’s Office of Renewable Energy Siting, the same board that will give final approval for the Ripley project.

The 125-megawatt solar project in Westfield has been under discussion for more than two years now. When it was first proposed, it was announced that 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.

Last year during a virtual presentation on the project, developers said they were also considering installing 20 megawatts of battery storage. They said the battery storage is important because of the intermittent nature of wind and sun.

During that presentation, developers said their goal was for construction to begin by the end of 2022 and for the project to become operational by the end of 2023. It’s unclear at this point if that timeline has been delayed.

On the state’s Department of Public Service’s website, it states that on Jan. 13, a notice of closure of the proceeding was filed on behalf of the New York State Board of Electric Generation Sitting and the Environment. It was the last filing done since Feb. 25, 2021.

Will was unable to give a timeline on what will happen next. He said they’re working on some other solar projects in the state right now that are further along before they will eventually return to the Westfield site.

Westfield Town Supervisor Martha Bills talked to Will as well after the Jan. 13 filing but said she hasn’t been told a better timeline either. “He didn’t really give a lot more information. It was more a formal recognition that they filed a 94C (the notice of closure),” she said.

Bills said she hopes to hear from the company when they’re ready to move forward with the project, but admits it’s in the state’s hands right now.

“I know they’re working on some environmental issues, but I don’t really know more than that,” she said.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today