Scaled back Dewittville solar project still opposed by residents

OBSERVER Photo by Gregory Bacon Steve Long with Sol Source Power discusses the proposed 5 megawatt solar project for Wright Road in Dewittville. The project was first proposed in 2023 but has been scaled back.

A proposed solar project in the Dewittville area that has been scaled back is still meeting opposition from neighbors.

During the recent Chautauqua Town Board meeting, Steve Long with Sol Source Power presented a revised five megawatt solar project proposed to be constructed on Wright Road near Hartfield-Centralia Road, which is County Road 54.

In 2023, Sol Source Power proposed a larger solar project but decided to scale it back after receiving a “positive declaration” of the State Environmental Quality Review by the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals. By giving the original project a positive declaration it would have needed additional environmental studies and permits.

According to Long, tree clearing was reduced from 21 acres to 3.63 acres, the access road was reduced from 1,500 feet to 300 feet, there was going to be 3.63 acres of wetlands impacted which was reduced to none, there will be six instead of 12 utility poles installed, there will be increased screening, and greenery was added to the fence.

The project will affect about 20 acres of farmland. Long said the state classifies this farmland as “farmland of statewide importance,” but added that is lower than “prime farmland” or “prime farmland if drained.”

A letter was submitted to the town board, stating this part of the farmland was not a productive part of the property.

Neighbors argued that the land has been used in the past for farming, so it should not be taken out of use for a solar project.

Town resident Karen Engstrom read a statement from the county Agricultural Farmland and Protection Board, stating that conversion of this land into solar will result in the loss of farmland in the area and create more competition of the remaining land among farmers.

The son of the landowner spoke at the meeting and said that while this part of the property has been used for farming in the past, it’s wet and not very productive. “We have 300 acres of farmland in our farm. That is by far the poorest fields of what we own, and it’s only going to affect 20 acres of this, which is hardly a major impact on the farmland in this county,” he said.

Long added that a decommissioning plan has been submitted with the project as well and the land will be available for farmland again in the future once the project is decommissioned, which is expected to take place in 25 years.

He said if the land was converted into some other industrial site, like a storage facility, the land would never be able to be farmed again.

One resident asked Long why they don’t consider an inactive industrial site, to which he replied that all inactive industrial sites in the county are too small.

Long added that because Chautauqua County discourages tree clearing for solar projects, they search for open land, which is generally farmland. This site was selected because the farmland’s value is lower than prime farmland.

Long said if they get their approvals in time, they would like to start construction in the fall.

Other concerns noted included the financial viability of the project, if Sol Source would develop it or sell it, if glare would impact neighbors, if the solar panels would be made in the United States or in China, and if the solar project will increase temperatures locally.

No decisions were made following Long’s presentation. Town officials said they will continue the discussion next month.


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