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IDA approves major solar farm for Chautauqua County

The Ripley farmland where the solar project will be built.
ConnectGEN
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This Ripley farmland will be transformed into a major solar energy project.

A major solar farm is on the way to Ripley in Chautauqua County, with millions of dollars to local governments and to the landowners who host the solar panels.

When the coal-fired Dunkirk Steam Station was operating, it was a major source of electricity for Chautauqua and the region. The county is now gradually shifting to renewable energy — wind and solar, small and large.

The county Industrial Development Agency showed that Tuesday, in approving tens of millions of dollars in incentives for ConnectGen's solar project in Ripley. It's been in the works for several years.

The project deals with large numbers: 270 megawatts of electricity feeding into the existing power grid, 20 megawatts of battery storage, $60 million over 30 years to local government agencies in lieu of taxes and $30 million to local landowners in long-term revenue for solar leases, easement agreements and what are called "good neighbor" agreements. In approving the deal, the County Industrial Development Agency said it also includes $88 million in incentives and $238 million in state and regional benefits.

Deputy County Executive and IDA CEO Mark Geise said the solar battery system is important to the project.

"If you're only generating electricity when the sun's out or when it's light out, then it sort of hampers your ability to provide power at those times when it might be peaking and the sun's not out," he said.

Geise said the plan is for farmers to have the solar panel assemblies on sections of farms with poor soil, while the revenue will allow some family farms to survive the current poor economics of farming, using the remaining good soil. Construction will start late this year.

He said it also shows the county commitment to renewable energy.

"Very friendly to renewable energy," Geise said. "As you said, we have two wind farms that are up and the third one that is being constructed and we have a number of smaller, less-than-five-megawatt solar projects that have been approved, a couple that have been built. And now this 270-megawatt solar project."

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.