Opposition to a proposed solar project in the Cambria and Pendleton area has become more intensified as residents have formally organized into a group and elected officials at the local and state level have expressed their opposition as well.
Cypress Creek Renewables, the company proposing the Bear Ridge Solar Project, would like to lease 900 acres of private land throughout a 5,000-acre project area in southern Cambria and a portion of northern Pendleton. The developers plan to install solar panels mounted in rows on racking systems up to 12 feet high. The panels would be visible from a distance of about 1-1/2 miles, including from sites on Bear Ridge Road and IDA Park Drive in Lockport.
Recently, residents have formed the grassroots group, Cambria Opposition to Industrial Solar, to organize against the project. The Cambria Town Board also officially opposed the project because it would violate the town's zoning ordinance.
Kevin Kohlstedt, the project developer with Cypress Creek, said he is aware of the group, and added that the company values input from anybody in the community that is interested in the project.
"We've heard voices of support and voices of concerns ... Our job as a developer is to answer questions," Kohlstedt said. He added that they attended a Cambria town board July meeting to try and answer some questions attendees had.
Kohlstedt said he would "absolutely be interested" in attending one of the group's meetings if he was invited.
He added that Cypress Creek is finishing up its community outreach office, and he expects it to be open by the end of August.
"We really look forward to meeting folks in the community," Kohlstedt said.
State Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, attended the grassroots group's meeting last week and criticized the lack of local representation on the state board in charge of the project.
Kohlstedt said he saw Ortt attended the meeting and that, "It's great that local elected officials are taking an active role in the project and that they are taking the time to consider the communities interests."
Susan Fischer, a Cambria resident and member of the grassroots group, said Cyprus Creek Renewables is not invited to its meetings because they are closed meetings for opponents of the project.
She said they do not want the company turning the town into an industrial zoned area because the town is mostly an agricultural area and the company was offered an industrial area but turned it down.
"We don't want them changing the atmosphere of our beautiful agricultural town and turning it into a solar prison with fences and barbed wire around it," Fischer said." We don't want toxic panels ruing our farmland in future years for our next generation to deal with. Our town is not benefiting from the solar project what so ever. We don't need it and we don't want it."
Fischer added that the solar panels will cause the housing values of residents to go down.
She noted that the group is not against renewable solar energy "at all," but that Cypress Creek is trying to use a state energy law process to turn the agricultural land to industrial land.
Fischer said the group's membership has grown to over 200 and continues to grow daily. The group meets weekly and is planning to have an informational table set up at the Cambria Tractor Pull and the Pendleton Farm and Home Days.
Town officials had said they were planning to meet with Cypress Creek about their concerns over the project violating the town's zoning ordinance.
Kohlstedt said they met last week with officials from Cambria and Pendleton and that he is "really encouraged by the constructive conversation we had."
Article 10 of the New York State Public Service Law puts an appointed board in charge of siting review and permitting of major electric generating facilities, which are 25 MW or more. As part of the process, they have to consult with the public first.
Representatives from Cypress Creek Renewables say the Bear Ridge Solar Project would generate about 100 MW or enough electricity to power an estimated 25,000 homes.