When the solar development project along 2150 Dryden Road was initially pitched, and eventually approved, by Distributed Sun LLC back in 2017, it was expected to connect to the grid via underground wiring, not above ground poles.
At a Town Council meeting on April 20, 2017, according to the published minutes, then-project developer Bharath Srinivasan stated that there would only be overhead connected wiring above ground over Virgil Creek at the site. The project’s Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) from that same year said there would be approximately 14,500 feet of underground electric lines installed by open trenching.
The Town Council passed a resolution at its Aug. 17, 2017 meeting to approve the site plans for the project. In that resolution, the council stated it would grant the developer a special use permit upon several conditions, one focusing on the protection of the 25 acres of prime farmland that the project would be sited on. In that portion of the resolution, it states that for the sake of protecting the prime farmland, a “condition is placed on these projects that trenching for underground cables or conduits shall follow a procedure where topsoil is preserved by stockpiling it separately and returning it to the trench as the top layer,” which refers to what was outlined in the SWPPP.
Presently, Distributed Sun is no longer the developer of the project. True Green Capital is the current developer of the project and is now proposing the entire development be built above ground with overhead lining poles throughout the site connecting to the grid.
The decision to make changes to an already approved site plan has caused an uproar in the Dryden community.
“That’s what was in the plan; that’s what was in the plan approved by this town board; that’s what was in the plan that was approved by the planning board; that’s what the plan was that went through environmentalist court hearings,” resident Joe Osmeloski said at a Town Council meeting on Oct. 15. “And for now a company to come by and say, ‘No, we’re going to put it above ground,’ that’s just garbage.”
Craig Schutt questioned TrueGreen Capital’s rationale for buying the project.
“If you were negotiating for this project, when you looked at the plans and it said ‘underground’ that was pretty obvious and that’s what it would have been if approved, but you had known that NYSEG wouldn’t accept that, why did you buy that project,” Schutt said. “Why would you go there? Why wouldn’t you just walk away and say, ‘I’m sorry, but this isn’t going to work because NYSEG won’t go with it.’ TrueGreen must’ve known and they just assumed that they would get the variance and go ahead and do what they wanted to do.”
Project engineer Ilias Garidis said TrueGreen Capital “didn’t know what was expected” prior to purchasing the project. Garidis also said the sketches and schematics of the site plan did not clearly identify whether or not the interconnection would be under or above ground.
Tompkins County Legislator Martha Robertson was in attendance at the meeting on Thursday and said TrueGreen Capital should be accountable for what was agreed upon in the site plan that was approved in 2017.
“Presumably, when you buy a project that’s been approved, you’re responsible for what’s approved,” Robertson said. “Responsible for all the covenants and agreements and etcetera that have been negotiated and worked out, and there was an agreement. That’s what you’re responsible for.”
Another issue with the project is the utility company involved in the development, NYSEG, is unable to build an underground interconnection, according to Tim Lynch, Director of Transmission Services.
“Unfortunately, in this circumstance NYSEG does not use ground-mounted reclosers,” Lynch said. “So we have no rules on our system; we have no standard for when you have no contracts for a period with such a device. Our crews are not familiar with the device; we won’t have spares; we won’t have training. It’s just not a device we use.”
Robertson, along with several other individuals in attendance, brought up the fact that other utility companies around the state have the ability to build such structures and questioned why NYSEG does not have the means to do so.
Joe Rusin of NYSEG said the desire for above or underground interconnection varies among municipalities and that in some instances building underground may be too costly for a developer.
“The developer is paying for the project, so in some cases if every developer is forced to go underground, there may be a lot less solar that the state can have because the margin is so tight that they can’t afford to do that,” Rusin said. “So I think to make every developer have to do underground would be unfair because in some cases it’s not an issue and they should have that option.”
Robertson said priorities need to be reconsidered when proposing solar developments.
“We all desperately need a greener grid,” she said. “We should all be prepared to more than support interconnecting and supporting the grid to be strengthened and get these projects put in appropriate places. To have the placement of solar driven by the cost to interconnect is destined to create these kinds of conflicts over and over and over again.”
By the end of the discussion, the Town Council agreed to meet with the planning board prior its meeting on Oct. 22 to further review the site plan.