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Proposed Grand Island solar park draws strong opposition

Mike Desmond
Rendering of proposed solar park

A plan for a large solar panel array on Grand Island drew some strong opposition Monday night during a Town Board meeting, including a threat to throw lawyers at the board if it approves the plan.

The 42-acre site is along Whitehaven Road and if the $15 million community solar park goes through, there would be around 35 acres of the panels standing up to 12' high, with the entire complex surrounded by a plastic-covered chainlink fence.  Speakers in opposition had problems from potential effect on property values around the site to a claim that solar power remains experimental.

"We strongly object to the installation of a solar array project on the Whitehaven property," said neighbor Robert Fraser. "This project would result in the devaluation of our property. In addition, very important, the climate in our area does not have enough sunshine to produce beneficial energy results. We have a great deal of overcast sky."

Fraser also pointed to snow interfering with energy generation.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Solarpark Managing General Partner Thomas Guzek

The project is proposed by SolarPark Energy, out of Saratoga Springs. Managing General Partner Thomas Guzek said the proposed site reflects the need to hook into the electrical grid.
"The substation that we are going to interconnect there is right in front of the property that we are looking to develop this on," Guzek said, "and, quite honestly, National Grid, who's interested in distributed energy generation, is supporting us in this project in terms of saying it's a good project."

All the Town Board did was hold the required public hearing, but took no action. However, Town Conservation Advisory Board member Diane Evans said the board has some recommendations.

"Require the developer to provide access points for wildlife to enter and exit the fence perimeter pursuant to New York State DEC recommendations," Evans said. "Provide a buffer zone of sufficient width to protect Wood's Creek. Increase the buffer on the north border of the installation to minimize the removal of trees and vegetation."

The site has some mature trees that would have to be cut down and there also is wetland on the site. The environmental study of the project is still underway.

Guzek said he is running toward the end of this construction season and construction would take 3-4 months. He said once there is an approval, he has to go out and sell solar to potential customers.

The target market is people interested in solar as an electrical source, but who can't or won't put panels on their property. Instead, they would draw power from this community solar project. Guzek said it is a five-megawatt project that would produce enough electricity to serve 1,200 homes.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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