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Solar project may affect historic sites

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A representative from one of the companies working to install a solar farm in Catskill makes a presentation Tuesday.
June 12, 2019 10:00 pm

CATSKILL — Representatives from the Thomas Cole National Historic Site and Scenic Hudson expressed concern Tuesday that a proposed solar project will impact the viewshed of local historic sites.

The 1.6-megawatt proposal for Cauterskill Road was presented to the town board in January by representatives from Renua Energy, Omni Navitas and Crawford & Associates Engineering. More than 5,000 solar panels will be stationed on 5.8 acres of the 112-acre property, which the company will be leasing for 25 years from owners Alfred and Nancy Beers, according to the proposal.

Hudson Talbott, a trustee of the Thomas Cole site, addressed the town planning board at a public hearing Tuesday.

“While this project is something we would embrace, our view is one of our chief assets,” Talbott said.

The Thomas Cole House attracts 50,000 to 150,000 visitors to the area each year.

“We’re not against this, but we want to work with you,” he said.

Planning Board Chairman Joseph Izzo said that on a site visit, board members could not see the Thomas Cole House from the site and could see Olana only from the highest section.

“Because of the terrain, we believe if there is any impact, it would be very minimal,” Izzo said. Renua Energy Founder & President David Byrne agreed that due to the elevation decline where the panels are located, they will not be visible.

“We have screening out to 1,000 feet, give or take,” he said, referring to tree cover in front of the balcony at the Cole site.

Lisa Fox Martin, who chairs the Cole House board of trustees, asked if the trees were evergreens.

“These are deciduous trees,” Byrne said.

The rooms that look out toward the project are where Thomas Cole painted in 1836 and 1839, Martin said, emphasizing the importance of maintaining the view Cole saw.

Scenic Hudson Director of Land Use Advocacy Jeffrey Anzevino encouraged the board and Byrne to minimize the visual impact.

“We want solar panels, as many as possible,” Anzevino said. “But we want to make sure they’re in the right places, that they’re not taking up productive farmland or affecting important viewsheds.”

Projects like these will help the state reach Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s goal of using 100% clean energy by 2040.

“We want to meet the state’s solar goals without compromising our food resources or the historic views we have here. We want to see this approved in the end,” Anzevino said.

Olana and the Cole House are two of 2,500 national historic sites in the U.S., Anzevino said. There are fewer than 300 in New York.

Olana attracts 170,000 visitors annually, Anzevino said.

Anzevino asked Byrne to retake photographs or create simulations that show the views without leaf cover.

Olana Senior Vice President and Landscape Curator Mark Prezorski shared similar remarks in a letter to the planning board dated June 11.

“The Olana Partnership requests a more thorough visual analysis, including simulations,” Prezorski wrote. “While we understand the need for solar solutions in our region, we request that the planning board not grant site approval until we can better understand what is being proposed.”

The board will require simulations without leaves, Izzo said.

Anzevino’s other recommendations included shifting the panels further down the slope so that the highest section is no longer visible from Olana and to make the wildlife fencing green and slated to be more visually pleasing.

The fencing is eight feet tall with eight inches of clearance underneath, Byrne said.

Catskill resident Pat Ruck asked if residents have to purchase panels to receive energy discounts.

“This program helps people who can’t do solar at their own property,” Byrne said, adding that residents instead purchase credits and receive 10% to 15% discounts off their utility bills through a program with the state Energy Research Development Agency.

Talbott asked if the project may expand in the future.

“We only have so much capacity and we are limited by the terrain,” Byrne said. “We also want to maintain agricultural uses on-site. We could do some more, but not a lot. I’d say 10% to 15% more than what we have.”

All proposed additions to the project would have to come to the planning board for review.

Anzevino asked how the project will connect to the grid.

“The interconnection will be mostly underground,” Byrne said. “It will switch to 20-foot poles at the southwest corner of the property. The three-phase connector is on Cauterskill Road.”