Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Righteous Purpose, Ill-Chosen Place

At the informal Common Council meeting on Monday, March 12, a group called East Light Partners made a presentation to the Council about a solar farm they are proposing to build in nearby Greenport, on Vapor Trail, on a site they characterized as "not land in agricultural production," next to a factory and next to a prison. What they were offering was a utility service agreement with the City of Hudson--up to 40 percent of the energy produced would go to the City and the rest to residents. Council president Tom DePietro referred the proposal to the Economic Development Committee, which promised to take it up at its April meeting.

East Lake solar farm in Uxbridge, Massachusetts
On Tuesday evening, East Light Partners were at the Columbia County Board of Supervisors Economic Development Committee meeting, essentially making the same presentation and suggesting that the County might want to be the single customer that takes 40 percent of the energy. There was also talk of a PILOT. Committee member Michael Chameides (Hudson--Third Ward) raised the issue that part of the land they were proposing to use was in a watershed, and he was assured by another committee member that the project would require site plan review by the Greenport Planning Board, and those environmental concerns would be addressed there.

The proposed site, which is located within the area outlined in red on the above map, has issues that go beyond being in a watershed. It is next to a prison, yes, but the part of the Hudson Correctional Facility that it abuts is in fact the grounds of the Dr. Oliver Bronson House, and the Dr. Oliver Bronson House and Estate are a National Historic Landmark. The NHL designation encompasses a total of fifty-five acres. The solar array, sited where proposed, would be visible from all three floors of the Bronson House, from various points along the carriage road, and many other places on the estate.

Image from National Park Service NP Gallery

East Light Partners have elsewhere sited solar arrays on landfills. They are currently working on building a solar farm on the town landfill in Saugerties. In an article that appeared in the Kingston Freeman, town supervisor Fred Costello is quoted as saying, "That land has never been on the tax rolls; there's no assessment that's applicable because it's the former dump." That's certainly not the case with the land in Greenport that East Light Partners are now proposing as a site for their solar array. Last year, Randall+West, then consultants to the Conservation Advisory Council in preparing its Open Space and Natural Resources Inventory, identified the very area that is the proposed site of the solar array as "Farmland of Statewide Significance."

This 1952 aerial photograph shows that in living memory the land was being used for agriculture.

Historic Aerials 1952 courtesy Historic Hudson
By coincidence, Scenic Hudson held a day-long symposium yesterday about solar energy called Solar Smart Hudson Valley: Building Clean Energy While Preserving Important Lands. In advance of the symposium, Scenic Hudson published siting and design principles for renewable energy development it had developed "to help stakeholders find common ground in a regional model for increased renewable energy development that also protects natural and economic resources." Those principles are:
  • prioritize development on previously disturbed areas
  • protect agricultural lands and promote co-location
  • protect natural beauty
  • protect ecological resources
  • protect historic and cultural resources
  • maintain the purpose of conserved lands
  • avoid and minimize new transmission and distribution lines
  • use construction and operation best practices
  • promote sustainable renewable energy development through planning and zoning
This proposed siting seems in conflict with a few of these principles but one most significantly: "protect historic and cultural resources." Not only would the solar array be visible from the Dr. Oliver Bronson House, Hudson's own and only National Historic Landmark, it would also be visible from Olana, whose viewshed has always been scrupulously and robustly defended.


  1. Great idea - absolutely wrong siting - what about Hudsons landfills ?

    1. Hudson's landfill is shaped into hills, creating a series of slopes which are either too steep for installation of racks without causing erosion or oriented in the wrong direction. Many other landfills have been engineered as plateaus, (flat surfaces with a berm around the perimeter to contain rainwater) but the Hudson site wouldn't work with that design.

  2. I attended the solar conference yesterday by Scenic Hudson and have a few take-aways.

    1. I talked to East Light about the Landfill idea and then asked Rob at DPW this morning. The Hudson landfill on the North Bay is COUNTY property, not City. East Light is more than happy to put solar on landfills - and then lease the land from the municipality, which is an added bonus $$ for the muni. This is what they are doing in Saugerties. (A different company is installing solar panels now on the Beacon landfill).

    2. There are ballast/cement block solar panel installation which will not puncture the landfill.

    3. Brownfield sites are also recommended for solar panels.

    4. We need to start the discussion on how to zone for solar here in Hudson. Going to the conference was a great networking opportunity to meet people from other municipalities who have gone through the process. I will be adding this item to the agenda of Economic Dev Committee, which I chair.


    1. Thanks for sharing this Rich. It's nice to actually see what (if anything) elected officials are doing.

  3. What about that large parcel of land east of North Bay - north of the school ? Would that be an option ?

    1. I'm not sure which parcel you are suggesting, Vince, but it may already be the site of a solar farm: