Company touts Verona solar project in virtual session

VERONA —Invenergy representatives laid out all the information they could for local residents on the Verona Solar program and answered any questions they had left over. The virtual event was held in place of a physical meeting to allow more people to attend than allowable by COVID-19 guidelines and featured a number of people involved with the project.

Kate Millar, Invenergy manager of renewable development and developer of the Verona Solar project was joined by her colleagues: Jeff Veazie, director of renewable development at Invenergy; Marguerite Wells, senior manager of renewable development; and Brad Plunkett, staff engineer.

Invenergy is based out of Chicago, IL and currently working to obtain necessary permits and agreements to support a 2023 construction date for the Verona Solar project — which is aiming to put a solar project somewhere in the Verona area expected to be a 1,700 acre project. At time of writing, Invenergy has 105 wind projects, 43 solar projects, 16 electrical storage projects, and more than 1,500 miles of transmission lines.

“We stress the importance of the communities that we work in and have operating projects in,” Millar said. “And we have significant local impact.”

There are nine total projects in New York, producing 893 megawatts — six wind, two solar, and one storage. $2.5 million is invested annually in local taxes, $3.9 million in annual landowner payments, and $1.6 million paid in annual wages and benefits.

The proposed Verona Solar project would total about 250 megawatts, powering around 77,000 homes and adding $2.3 million in annual community revenue in the form of host community benefit agreements, property tax agreement, local landowner payments, payroll for operations, and $500/megawatt paid annually in energy bill discounts to area residents for 10 years divided up between the rate-payers, the company officials said.

“Give or take, it’s 75 to 80% of the total number of households in the county,” Millar said. “So a significant of the share of the county’s power could come from this project.” On top of this, he said, 400 construction jobs would be created over one to two years.

What makes this solar project different that others in the area, they said, is that the panels will be installed on driven piles and track the sun, increasing efficiency. Veazie said before they submit a formal application, Invenergy will commission a number of studies, from wildlife and bird surveys, to wetland delineation, the noise and visual impact, and more.

There’s no firm deadline for when the application will be submitted, Veazie said, but it’s projected to be submitted later this year. If accepted, a draft permit will be issued and a public hearing would be scheduled a minimum of 60 days after. Wells said the site was chosen for a number of factors, including its proximity to transmission lines, its topography, future developments, local zoning, landowners, and more.

“When a company like ours is looking for sites that are appropriate for solar development, there’s a number of considerations that have to be taken into account,” Wells said. “You can’t put solar panels on steep mountainsides and you have to watch out for floodplains [for example. We do a lot of analysis to meet all of our needs.”

The area in Verona meets these criteria and Wells assured residents that Invenergy would be taking care of its solar project — even when it’s time to decommission it. At time of writing, the lifespan of an average solar panel is between 20 and 30 years.

“We’re responsible for taking the project down,” Wells said. “It’s in our contract and our land permits. So when it’s run to the end of its life, we’ll take it down to nothing, following the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets guideline for solar.”

The solar panels Invenergy intends to use, Plunkett said, are bi-facial solar modules made of common materials that are safe to touch and for home use. He added the project would take around 12 to 24 months to construct, starting with clearing and grading.

“When the lands’ ready to go, we’ll begin driving in the steel piles, rack them and begin hanging the modules,” he said. “And this construction period will have hundreds of local jobs created.”

At the end of the presentation, local residents posed a number of questions, from community impact to public health.

A Verona participant wanted to know how the surrounding community of the solar array would benefit from the project.

Millar said the community would benefit in several ways, starting with a large injection of clean energy into the grid that’s domestic power that doesn’t need to be imported. “Having a project like this in the community means we’ll be paying into the local tax base,” she continued. “We expect to have host community agreements we’ll negotiate with the town. And that’s money that’s going into the town to improve things like infrastructure or municipal services.”

Millar added that this project would pay into property tax agreements, putting money towards the local fire department, the school district, and the county. Finally, a year or two of construction means a lot of jobs that need to be filled.

Another area resident asked if there have been any studies done on the impact of people’s health “…if they live in the middle of these solar panels.”

“We will have standard setbacks from home and designing the project so that components sit well away from homes,” Millar said. “But the requirements of the application and what the project will be embarking on study-wise will include comprehensive evaluation of impacts to the community, including an evaluation of public health.” This will include a glare study, electromagnetic study, a noise and vibration analysis, and more.

Another participant asked what the impact to houses and their value would be in the area.

“There’s no evidence to support that there’s any impact on property values from solar development,” Millar said. “There’s quite a number solar and other energy projects in the state and all over the country. There’s studies that have been done and [Invenergy] believes there’s no impact to surrounding property values.”

For more information on the project, visit veronasolar.invenergy.com or invenergy.com