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Developer defends Ripley solar project

The developer behind the proposed Ripley solar farm has begun fighting back, insisting the project is safe and will benefit Chautauqua County.

The Chautauqua County Legislature at its meeting received written communication from Isaac Phillips, project developer for the South Ripley Solar Project. In the letter, Phillips noted the project represents a $350 million capital investment which will bring “significant revenue, construction jobs and economic development into the Town of Ripley and Chautauqua County.”

The project is expected to create up to 220 construction jobs, “many of which will be sourced from the local labor pool” and another two to four full-time operations and maintenance jobs.

For the local landowners, Phillips noted the project represents “a significant, stable long-term income source that will provide economic security and diversified revenue to protect family farms.”

According to Phillips, ConnectGen, the company behind the South Ripley Solar Project, has already paid over $600,000 for site control agreements.

“(A)nnual payments to these landowners are expected to average over $1 million a year, resulting in over $30 million in payments to local landowners over the life of the project,” he wrote. “These landowners, in turn, will likely use this money to reinvest in new farm equipment or home improvements, which will generate additional income for the county in assessed property taxes and sales taxes.”

The Payment In Lieu Of Taxes, which the project is seeking from the county Industrial Development Agency, could provide $16 million to the town of Ripley and Chautauqua County, as well as more than $4.7 million to the Sherman and Ripley school districts.

Phillips noted that the project will disturb around 1,250 to 1,500 acres of land, far less than residents complained about during last month’s legislature meeting. “Construction of solar projects is largely low and does not typically require significant site work or soil disturbance. ConnectGen aims to further minimize potential environmental impacts by avoiding wetlands, limiting tree clearing to commercial timber areas, and working with participating farmers to utilize less productive agricultural fields,” he wrote.

He shared that as part of the process, the solar project is consulting with multiple state and federal agencies, including the state Department of Public Service, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, state Department of Agriculture and Markets, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. These departments will “ensure that potential environmental impacts are fully considered in conjunction with the environmental benefits of the project,” Phillips wrote.

During last month’s legislature meeting, a number of residents expressed concerns about the battery storage facility that will be installed. According to Phillips, “All solar and storage facilities are designed to strict electrical safety standards to ensure safety operation. Product safety standards, installation requirements, and building codes for solar facilities are addressed by the National Fire Protection Agency’s National Electric Code, the International Code Council’s International Fire Code, the International Association of Firefighters, and several other national, state and local safety, and product standards groups.”

Phillips said the site will be remotely monitored 24/7 by trained personnel to ensure no abnormalities are occurring on the system. “Internal fire suppression and ventilation system are designed as backstop protection should any abnormality occur. Moreover, the remote control center has the ability to emergency stop the system in addition to the on-site safety design measures,” he wrote.

Attached to Phillips’ letter was 75 letters of support for the project.

The legislature also received a letter from David Wilkinson, of Cassadaga, who is the business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 106, which has 186 wiremen, 116 who live in Chautauqua County.

“I am dismayed at the resistance of our elected leadership, driven by a few, to continuously oppose work opportunities for my members who are residents of Chautauqua County. The County Legislature has the authority to require local labor on projects that receive tax incentives but has dismissed this proposal in the past. This would certainly be one aspect to create jobs in this community that the County Legislature could accomplish,” he wrote. “I.B.E.W. Local Union 106 and its members fully support not only the Ripley Solar Project but green energy development in every aspect. We are hopeful that the legislature of Chautauqua County will stand with workers,” he wrote.

The legislature also received four letters from Ripley land owners who support the project and two letters in opposition.

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