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Skidmore College Solar Array Gets OK From Greenfield Planning Board

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Correction 10/11/13: The fence surrounding the array will be six-feet high, not five, as previously reported.

Greenfield’s planning board voted this week to approve Skidmore College’s application for a Planned Unit Development – or PUD. The project involves the construction of a 2-megawatt solar array on a 120-acre parcel of land owned by the college that currently contains baseball and polo fields.

Michael Hall, special assistant for the vice president for finance and administration at Skidmore, said the electricity generated from the solar array would be enough to provide for 12 percent of the college’s electricity use.

"The primary is goal is not cash savings, the primary goal is 'green'," said Hall. "We would be looking to get renewable energy credits for each one of those kilowatt hours and be able to reduce our carbon footprint."

Hall said additional savings could be passed on to the Town of Greenfield.

To pay for the project, the college received a $2.35 million grant from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s NY-Sun Initiative. Dynamic Energy Solutions of Wayne, Penn. has been chosen to construct the array if approved.

John Streit, Vice Chair of Greenfield’s planning board, said the board’s review of the plan introduced last spring was lengthy due to complaints from town residents on the array’s impact on land value and environment.

"On balance, we consider all the information," said Streit, "and if you're aware of the process that we had it was extensive and exhausting, and utlimately came to the conclusion that this was within the zoning laws that applies to a PUD and that there were no harmful factors that could be mitigated."

Hall said the completed array will be bordered by a six-foot-tall fence, and landscaping will be done to hide the project from view.

"Residents had some concerns that it wasn't enough and so we agreed that we would do whatever it takes to essentially make the array not visible from the roadway or from surrounding houses," said Hall.

The college agreed to bonds that would ensure trees are installed throughout the time the array is in operation, and that the college would pay to remove the array if the project is discontinued.

"Ultimately we thought that the opposition's arguments were mitigated by the actions promised by the applicant. It was utlimately within the interest of the town and it did not harm significantly the people who mounted the opposition," said Streit.

The town board would still have to approve the final project, and then would require further approval through a site-plan review.

Greenfield’s Environmental Commission has also supported the project.

A micro-hydro project in development by Skidmore College that would require the purchase of a hydroelectric dam, combined with the solar array, could supply 30 percent of the campus’s electricity through redistribution into the grid owned by National Grid.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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