Public comment requested on Somerset Solar | News

BARKER — Residents and local officials have spoken out about an upcoming solar project in the town of Somerset.

Of the approximately three dozen people in attendance, 16 spoke during a 90-minute meeting hosted by the New York State Office of Renewable Energy Siting on Tuesday evening in the Barker High School auditorium. Speakers included Somerset Town Supervisor Jeff Dewart, Town Board Member Robin Jansen, Niagara County Legislator Shawn Foti and numerous residents.

The meeting took place after ORES issued a draft site permit to Somerset Solar LLC, a subsidiary of AES Clean Energy Development LLC, for a proposed 125-megawatt solar array on part of the 1,800-acre area that once housed the Somerset Generating Station.

Overall, several speakers expressed concerns about the project’s location on either side of Lake Road.

“The brownfield site located on the site of a former coal-fired power plant should be the first place where solar panels are placed, not prime farmland,” said resident Pam Atwater.

AES employees, including Chief Development Officer Mario Rice, were also present at the meeting.

“That was the big topic tonight that we expected to hear,” Rice said later.

“For the most part, we understand the concerns, especially south of (Lake Road). As a company we have undertaken not to deal with additional landowners and to only use properties owned by Somerset Operating Company.”

Dewart says the city is not opposed to the entire project, but has reservations about the location.

“We want everything to go on the north side (of Lake Road) if possible because there is a lot of prime farmland on the south side that farmers have leased for over 30 years from the plant,” he said.

The draft ORES permit dated April 5, 2024 indicates that Somerset Solar has requested exemptions from various aspects of the Somerset Solar Law. Although many of the waivers requested were denied, the company was granted partial relief on “prime agricultural land” issues as well as decommissioning standards set by the city. ORES also found the city’s hazardous materials law to be unduly burdensome.

Other concerns raised by residents during the meeting included the efficiency of renewable energy sources, project maintenance and the use of hazardous substances such as PFAS.

“The non-reflective coatings on solar panels that contain PFAS and are degraded all the time they are exposed to sunlight, and when it rains…PFAS contaminate ground and surface water. So who will ensure that panels containing PFAS are not used here?” – said resident Betty Wolanyk.

While ORES upheld the city’s required minimum restrictions in the draft permit, resident Lindsey Payne raised concerns about the project’s proximity to her home on Lake Road, across from the former power plant site.

“If you ever look at a map of where they want to put solar panels, my house is… where the solar panels cover the entire left side, the entire back side and the entire other side of the street (from the property). They want to put it less than a football field away from the house and they don’t seem to care,” Payne said.

Rice said AES staff will soon begin formulating responses to “certain issues” that were discussed by residents at the meeting.

“We will own and operate this project for the long term, so we want to be good neighbors to everyone in this community,” he said.

ORES will accept written comments on the project until 5 p.m. Friday via its website: