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Clymer Town Board Tables Solar Project Vote For Another Month

Clymer’s Town Board decided to table the vote on their first solar project for the next meeting during the board meeting in February. P-J photo by Sara Holthouse

CLYMER — The board for the town of Clymer was set to take an official vote on the town’s first solar project before deciding to table the vote for another month.

The Clymer PV Solar RIC Energy Project is set to be placed at 1548 Upper Road, and RIC Energy has requested a waiver on the setback requirements which are stated in the town’s solar law. The solar law was created for the town approximately three years ago with the help of an ad hoc committee and there have been four separate public hearings for this project.

“Personally, myself, I was glad we had the public hearings,” Town Supervisor Brian Willink said. “I learned a lot to be honest with you about how these things work, what the laws are, where you make money, where we can help or we can make money. There’s a lot of things that go into these projects.”

The board is now set to vote on a special use permit for the project and the SEQR resolution. The SEQR resolution finds that there will be no significant environmental impacts with the project and the board would be adopting a negative declaration.

With the special use permit, most parts of the permit are standard except for the setback waiver request.

“In this case the board has reviewed the facts and determined that there are not sufficient grounds for granting that waiver relief, with a little more discussion on that,” town attorney Joel Seachrist said. “So essentially by adopting this permit tonight you are saying they can build a solar project on this site but they must comply with the setback requirements.”

The town’s solar law asks that projects be set back 300 feet from the boundary of the property and 500 feet from the residencies. The board voted and passed the negative SEQR resolution, but before voting on the special use permit, Andy Welch from RIC Energy asked to make a comment.

Welch’s main issue came from paragraphs five and six in the special use permit, which state that in the view of the board the applicant has shown little flexibility in modifying the project to fit the setback requirements and made minimal efforts to modify it to fit those requirements. The permit also states that it appears that the applicant identified the land to use for the project with little consideration for the requirements, possibly assuming the waiver would be readily obtainable. It is noted that the project at this time would be aesthetically disruptive to residents on the west side of Upper Road and to passers-by, also likely having an impact on the values of nearby properties.

Welch said the project was initiated in 2020, and he met with the board in October 2020, when at the time the law in place was what had been created in 2017. The solar law was then changed in the middle of their design stage for the project, Welch said.

“We then started to design and realized that you had changed the law and the law was quite different on that,” Welch said. “The project would not fit at the size it was on the plot of land with all of the setbacks in the new local law. But we were aware and we again came in and met with the town board and discussed if waivers were possibilities.”

Welch added that the plan was then made to put extensive landscaping in and that they met with the two local neighbors. Welch said he came to meetings every time he was asked and answered all questions from the board and the public, showing that they were willing to discuss and work with the board. He said that they do need the waiver in order to make the project work and without it they would have to give back some or all of the land.

“We’ve spoken several times and it’s even been indicated by people who are opposed to the concept of solar projects that this is a very good location for a solar project,” Welch said. “If in fact we don’t get the waivers and we have to give back the capacity available to the grid, it is in all likelihood that someone else will come along and try to do a project elsewhere in the town, maybe adhering to the letter of the law but not something this board is particularly interested in seeing happen.”

Welch acknowledged that the board has had previous discussions about not wanting to do a waiver on the first project, but added that there has not been discussions on what the setback reductions that the company has talked about would want. Welch asked for the board to table the vote for next month in order to allow for more discussion and for the board and RIC Energy to work together to come up with a compromise.

Seachrist said there was no legal objection to tabling the vote, but wondered if postponing would be worthwhile. Melissa Murphy, Town Board member, said waiting another month would not hurt the board.

“My discussion with that would be, they’ve been patient with us and listened to folks, what’s it hurt to put it off another month and see what they have to say and see if there’s a compromise possible?” Murphy said. “I mean it’s not hurting us any, it’s hurting them if we put it off more, really. I feel like we don’t have anything to lose.”

The board agreed and the vote on the special use permit was tabled for the March meeting. Welch said RIC Energy would not hold the board to a clock on the SEQR approval.

Also at the board meeting the public hearing for the town’s second solar project being done by Clean Choice Energy and set for 710 Clymer Hill Road was officially closed.

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