Great Valley board considers solar farm for town gravel pit

The former Great Valley town dump and gravel pit could be the location of a new solar farm on town property, which would generate income and lower electric bills for the town.

GREAT VALLEY — Commercial solar farms on private property are still not allowed in the town of Great Valley, but a new local law has made solar projects a possibility under one condition.

The town board Monday approved a local law permitting solar farms to be installed on private property as long as the parcel borders a municipal parcel — owned by the town, school district or other governmental entity — and the majority of the solar farm is on the municipal land.

Before approving the law, a public hearing was held with about half a dozen town residents in attendance.

“A utility-scale solar project, which is about 10 to 15 acres, will be allowed as long as it’s on government-owned property and any property adjoining that,” explained town attorney Peter Sorgi. “It has to be the municipal project and then can spill over if there is a need for that, so it’s very limited in that regard.”

In 2015, the town was approached by a resident who wanted to install a couple solar panels for their home, but the town had no solar laws in its zoning code at the time, Sorgi said. The town passed a blanket law banning solar panels except for individual use for one property.

“There have been changes in state law since then, so for very large projects over 75 acres, the state now takes complete jurisdiction over those,” he explained. “Our zoning code really isn’t applicable to those.”

In 2020, the town was approached by a solar company from Depew to install a roughly 15-acre solar farm on town property near the former town dump, Sorgi said. The town board approved pursuing the project because it would be on land that has no other use and would be out of sight from the roads and public spaces.

“It would provide benefits to about 40 percent of nonresidential users, including the town, and the other 60 percent would go to residential users,” he added.

When the company realized not enough of the land could be used for the project in mind, the solar representatives suggested having a portion of the field go onto the adjoining property owned by Gernatt Asphalt Products Inc.

The town’s and Cattaraugus County’s planning boards both reviewed and approved the local law for the town board to adopt. Sorgi said the only note from the county concerned an addition about not wanting large solar farms on “soils of statewide importance” in addition to the town’s restriction of “prime agricultural land.”

“The intent was we did not want to see prime farmland taken up by these uses at this time,” he added. “This is just a minor step because it doesn’t apply to much property in the town of Great Valley.”

One town resident questioned whether the project would go out for competitive bid because the town would be leasing the land. Sorgi there wouldn’t be a bid for the project itself since the town is not constructing it, but the use of the land could have to be bid once the solar company presents its official plan.

Councilwoman Sandra Goode expressed concern over the possibility of the solar farm expanding since Gernatt owns a few parcels in a row adjacent to the one bordering the town property.

Sorgi said that couldn’t happen because the law is only for parcels adjacent to the government property and any expansion wouldn’t be a part of the project primarily on the town’s land.

“Unless you change the law or they ask for a use variance or some other way to do that, this law would not authorize that,” he explained. “Once this project is done, it’s done.”