Community Solar Takes Off in Chester and Blooming Grove
By Edie Johnson
With the passage of the Town of Blooming Grove’s so-called “Solar Amendment”, the stage is set for three community solar projects to ‘take off’ in their approval process. Community solar can be approved on 10 or 20-acre lots. A last-minute change, that to remove Scenic View sheds from protective code, and leave only Scenic Ridges protected from community solar projects was viewed by some as concerning, but Planning Board Chairman, Ralph Maffei assured residents that there will be plenty of oversight during the application process and that he realizes that “Siting” of these 10 and 20-acre projects is crucial and probably comprises more than 75 percent of the process. Amount of tree-cutting that will be permitted is another concern. Orange County Planning confirmed that if this new amendment that takes away some of the previous protections of 5 overlay districts does not work well, it can be once again amended. The three projects that are currently in the works include one at the end of Rena Marie Circle, one in the woods behind a transformer off of Round Hill Road and a third in the rustic farmland adjacent to the Heritage Trail and between it and where the Quickway passes by the Blooming Grove Craigville Rd. exit. This is the project that puts the rural scenery of Blooming Grove most at risk in the process, and Maffie vowed that he will watch how it is planned with the utmost care and will require extensive balloon visual imagery to test whether it can be seen from Craigville Road and Route 17/Quickway as it passes by.
Meanwhile, in the Town of Chester, one community solar project is done, and two more are in process. The solar project planned for the Johnson Road Farm hit a big roadblock when the solar company proposing it went bankrupt. Unfortunately, when another company took over the project, the condition that it would not be able to be seen from Route 94, which is supposed to have Scenic Road protection, was somewhat shortchanged. The acres that are filled with solar panels can clearly be seen from the major byway, and the company taking the project over did not set a line of buffer trees that would have easily shielded it from view.
The second Chester project was proposed about a year ago for property located near the Citizens Foundation site at the edge of Sugar Loaf Hamlet. A third project proposed along Blackmeadow Road was conditionally approved earlier this month and is on a fast track to proceed.