Future of Skidmore College Solar Array Remains in Question

Posted by Rachel Kashdan

Update: The solar array was approved by the Greenfield Town Board in a 4-1 vote on Thursday night.

Skidmore College continues its efforts to turn the plans for a two-megawatt solar array on Denton Road into reality, and this task has not been simple.

Michael Hall, Special Assistant to Vice President Michael West and the solar project's spearhead, had already been exploring the possibility of bringing solar power to Skidmore for several years when Skidmore received a $2.35 million dollar grant from New York state one year ago. The grant came from New York State governor Andrew Cuomo's NY-Sun Initiative, which was established in 2012 as a state effort to increase its number of solar installations.

The College plans to build a 6,950-panel solar array on eight acres of land owned by the school. The array would be installed behind Skidmore's baseball fields on Denton Road in Greenfield. Skidmore has partnered with Dynamic Energy Solutions, which will build the solar plant and generate Skidmore's solar power for the next twenty years. The solar farm would satisfy about twelve percent of Skidmore's electricity demand, which Hall said would represent Skidmore's "first big move toward trying to reduce our electric carbon footprint."

Karen Kellogg, Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Skidmore, says that this project would provide the opportunity to demonstrate to the community an "approach to a more sustainable energy future." She is also confident that the project would provide vast opportunities for curricular connections, and expressed her hope that Skidmore will be able to "develop courses that talk about everything from the planning stage to the implementation stage [of this type of project] and how [these projects] fit into the broader landscape of an alternative energy future."

The process to get the plan approved has been a difficult one, as some residents who live near the site have vehemently spoken out against Skidmore's proposal. Despite the fact that the homes closest to the solar array would be about 1,100 feet away, many of these residents are concerned that it will disrupt the peace of their neighborhood.

During town hearings on the subject, residents have expressed concerns about increased traffic, noise pollution, and visual pollution. Yet throughout the approval process, Hall has been adamant that these will not be issues. "You are not going to be able to hear it, you are not going to be able to smell it, it won't give up any radio waves... and we are going to plant however many trees are required to make it not visible," he stated. In addition to the trees, a six-foot high cedar fence would also surround the entire area and further conceal the solar array. Moreover, increased traffic due to the solar farm should not be a concern, according to Hall, as only a single truck will visit the site about four to eight times a year to maintain the panels.

Greenfield's Planning Board has already positively reviewed the project; but it is now up to the Greenfield Town Board to make its final decision on the fate of the project, with residents' concerns in mind. A hearing will take place on December 5th, during which the project team will answer the board's remaining questions and the proposal will be put to a vote. If the Town Board does not vote in favor of Skidmore's proposal, the project will almost certainly be ended.

Despite this, Hall declares that the team continues to be "cautiously optimistic" about the fate of the project. If approved by the Town Board, the next step will be to perform a "site plan review" with the Greenfield Town Planning Board, in which every detail of the project will be thoroughly examined before it is given the final green light. Hall's goal is to then begin building the solar farm in January.

Although the process to get the project approved has been long and trying for everyone involved, Hall says that the board members have been "very fair" and that Skidmore is appreciative of "all of their effort that has gotten us to this point...We're just hoping that this diligence continues and we'll get our approval." 

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