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ENVIRONMENT

Conquest, resident advocacy group secure funds for massive solar project review

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Conquest solar

A map submitted by NextEra Energy Resources shows the land parcels where a proposed 200-megawatt solar array would be built in the town of Conquest.

Two entities — the town of Conquest and a group of concerned residents — will be able to tap into funds posted by the developer of one of the largest proposed solar farms in New York state.

The state Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment ruled last week on requests for intervenor funds made by the Cayuga County town and a newly formed advocacy group called the Rural Preservation and Net Conservation Benefit Coalition. Both are seeking help paying for their own legal and environmental experts to review a proposed 200-megawatt solar power facility in Conquest called the Garnet Energy Center.

Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources, a sister company of Florida Power & Light Co., is looking to install solar panels and storage and transmission equipment on 1,200 to 1,400 acres of property that it would lease from private landowners in Conquest. The company also plans to release property for buffer areas to minimize the impact on neighboring properties, bringing the total project footprint up to about 1,900 acres.

When it filed its 239-page preliminary scoping statement with the state siting board on Sept. 17, NextEra also paid a required fee of $70,000 that can be tapped by affected municipalities and local third parties to assist with their own reviews of the project.

The town and the local advocacy groups both filed applications seeking to draw from that fund. The town requested $44,000, $9,000 for legal fees and $35,000 for engineering and consulting fees. The examiners with the siting board awarded the town $40,000.

The private citizens group sought $34,950, $26,400 for legal services and $8,550 for experts. It was awarded the remaining $30,000 in intervenor funds.

The private group is represented by The Zoghlin Group PLLC, a Rochester-based law firm that specializes in environmental, energy, municipal and land-use matters. In its filing seeking fund, the organization described itself as "intent upon ensuring the Garnet Solar project results in a local net conservation benefit, particularly with regard to bird and bat species. The group also seeks to preserve as much of the project area's existing rural character as practicable through completion of a robust visual impact assessment, and implementation of appropriate visual impact mitigation measures."

NextEra's rough timeline has included submitting an official project application to the state in the fourth quarter of this year, with construction starting in August 2022 and the facility going online in 2023. The company said the project would create roughly 250 construction jobs and three to four permanent salaried jobs. It also said potential payments in lieu of taxes, if approved by the Cayuga County Industrial Development Agency, would amount to millions of dollars in revenues for local governments.

The Conquest project is by far the largest of several large-scale commercial solar projects in development in Cayuga County. A wave of solar projects in New York state have been proposed in response to the NYSERDA funding program, which is aimed at helping the state achieve clean energy goals included in recently signed state legislation.

This includes an 85% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, net-zero emissions from the state's grid by 2040 and 70% of New York's electricity coming from renewal sources by 2030.

Executive editor Jeremy Boyer can be reached at (315) 282-2231 or jeremy.boyer@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenBoyer

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