Saving Greene: Citizens for Sensible Solar was formed in Coxsackie in early 2018, when local residents became aware that nine utility-scale solar plants had been proposed for the town, including two facilities being sited under Article 10 of the NY Public Service Law. While we only oppose the Greene County Solar Facility, the cumulative effect of so much development will almost certainly change the character of the area. Hecate’s Greene County Solar Facility would have a nameplate capacity of 50 megawatts of energy that wouldn’t even be sold locally.
These are not bucolic solar farms. If built today, Hecate’s Greene County Solar Facility would be the largest in the Northeastern United States. In New England, by way of contrast, the largest plant to date generates just under 10 MW.
What we oppose
Saving Greene strongly opposes the siting of the Greene County Solar Facility, which would be located in environmentally sensitive areas of a historic community with a thriving economy and natural beauty that makes it an increasingly popular tourist destination. The overwhelming footprint of this plant—especially in combination with the 100-MW Flint Mine project and seven smaller plants—would irrevocably change the appearance, character, and economy of the town. The plant is proposed for a large residential district that was planned by the town for rural residential development.
Hundreds of acres of picturesque, highly productive farmland between Johnny Cake Lane and Flint Mine Road would become a sea of black glass. It is unlikely that Coxsackie would remain a tourist destination for anything beyond boasting the highest number of solar panels per capita in the Northeast. Contrary to the rosy picture painted by the solar industry, our property values around the plant sites are already falling as sellers scramble to find buyers willing to live in close proximity to the facility. Real estate sales have already been lost specifically because of the facility, and some buyers are unwilling even to look at homes near the proposed site.
Hecate Greene insists that landscaping will block most views of the “low-profile” plant features, but they admit that some views cannot be concealed. The facility would be clearly visible from parts of Farm to Market Road and other elevated points surrounding the plant. The developers acknowledge that they may use 15-foot panel structures instead of the “lower-profile” panels (Greene County Solar Facility Preliminary Scoping Statement (PSS). If used, taller panels would be even more prominently visible from local homes, businesses, and roadways.
How the facility affects the environment
Portions of the sites comprise winter habitat for the state-endangered short-eared owl and state-threatened northern harrier hawk as well as other endangered and threatened species. The proposed siting of panels would make it impossible for these birds to hunt in their current habitat, and their prey would no longer have many of the winter food sources that summertime agricultural activity provides.
Additionally, the sites are located in part of the Atlantic Flyway; 14 bird species use this land during their annual migrations. Again, their habitat would be replaced by solar panels, which some birds mistake for water.
What this means for agriculture
The Hecate Greene facility would be built on active farmland. Ninety-five percent of the land proposed for the site is classified as “prime farmland/prime farmland if drained,” or “farmland of statewide importance.” Only five percent of the facility area is classified as “not prime farmland.” (Greene County Solar Facility PSS and USDA Web Soil Survey)
Agriculture in Greene County is beginning to change in response to increasing demand for local foods in the downstate area. Despite its small size and widespread lack of productive soil, the county ranks 18th among 62 state counties for sweet corn production and 19th for highest vegetable, melon, potato, and sweet potato production. Many of the smaller new farms moving into the area are using sustainable methods to produce crops and livestock, resulting in less impact to the environment. As farmland is sold to solar developers, however, fewer farmers will be able to afford land here.
The county cannot afford to lose the relatively small areas of productive farmland within its borders, but these are being targeted for solar development at an alarming rate. Coxsackie’s proximity to transmission lines is obviously attractive to developers, and flat, open land is convenient and relatively inexpensive to build on. While the other Article 10 plant would be sited on farmland that is no longer in production, Hecate Greene’s facility is proposed for some of the town’s most productive cropland. The Department of Agriculture and Markets notes:
“The construction of the Facility Area in its proposed location constitutes a permanent conversion of agricultural land to a non-agricultural use… the Department strongly urges the Applicant to explore alternative sites which are not very flat, productive, well drained farmland comprised of Prime Farmland soil.” (D.A.M. Comments on the Greene County Solar Facility PSS)
Where this energy goes
Hecate Greene claim that the energy produced by this facility will benefit New York State households and support New York's Clean Energy Standard is only partly true. Forty percent of the energy from the Greene County Solar Facility would be sold to Connecticut-based utilities. None of the energy would be sold directly to local utility companies in our area, and we have found no evidence to support claims that our electricity rates will be reduced as a direct result of building this facility.
What we support
Saving Greene advocates for building solar plants in sensible places such as brownfields and decommissioned power plants. There are many examples of appropriate siting in upstate New York, and plenty of land available for such development. In other parts of the state, farmers are leasing relatively small areas for solar development in order to supplement and stabilize their income. We support this practice when arrays are responsibly sited. What we do not support is the wholesale conversion of active farmland to power plants.
The scenery of upstate New York attracts tourists from all over the world, yet our state is abandoning its precious viewsheds, agricultural resources, and fragile ecosystems in the race to see who can build the largest, most profitable “green” power plants.
What we're up against
The Greene County Solar Facility offers little benefit to the Coxsackie community, but town residents have no choice in deciding whether the facility will be constructed here. Article 10 of the New York State Public Service Law supersedes local laws that are deemed unduly burdensome. Article 10 overrides home rule, the time-honored right of municipalities to determine their own laws and futures.
Article 10 puts siting decisions in the hands of the state and developers, with little regard for the communities who will be forced to host major electric generating facilities. It does this in the name of public need: the needs of other parts of the state that won’t have their land and communities irrevocably changed. Approval decisions are left to a state-run Siting Board, which formerly allowed two members of the host community to participate in the decision-making process. More recently the state has been limiting that already nominal participation to one member. We had hoped the Siting Board would permit the municipality to be fairly represented. This disturbing trend demonstrates how little regard the state has for the wishes of the local communities.
And let’s not forget that 40% of the energy produced by this facility serves Connecticut residents. We want to be good neighbors, but New York communities shouldn’t shouldn’t be forced to host their solar projects. If solar energy reduces electric rates, wouldn’t it make sense to lower New York State’s rates first?
Saving Greene fully supports renewable energy. We simply want developers to site plants in places where they belong rather than consume valuable land out of greed and a reckless disregard for the history, economic future, and natural beauty of our community. Instead of thoughtfully planning solar development, New York State has chosen to make land available on a first-come, first-served basis that encourages the largest-scale development possible while abandoning its scenic and agricultural assets in the name of producing renewable energy. We should not be ruining green in the name of green.