The Pound Ridge Conservation Board addressed the growing solar industry during its meeting last week, anticipating the potential impact of local projects. “It’s something that should be on our radar,” said Chair Ellen Grogan.
Susan Roos, a member of the Bedford Conservation Board, provided members with an update on existing and proposed solar arrays in the immediate area. “I think that this is the next big thing,” Ms. Roos said. “It’s something that we have to consider.”
The Solar Energy Industries Association reports that in the last decade, the solar industry has experienced an average annual growth rate of 49%, and according to the U.S Energy Information Administration, solar is expected to be the fastest-growing form of renewable through 2050.
That growth is certainly evident when looking at Westchester County, where solar arrays and plans for future facilities have continued to pop up. The neighboring community of Mount Kisco, for example, has embraced solar energy in recent years. In 2019, the village became the first municipality in the region to establish a solar law, encouraging the use of solar energy structures on residential, commercial and governmental buildings and properties. Not long after, it received authorization to establish a solar panel field on the site of its closed, capped former landfill on village-owned property. The project, which recently went online, provides energy for about 125 subscribers and is expected to generate $100,000 in annual lease revenue for the town, according to public documents. The village also has a 4-acre solar farm of 3,600 panels at the rear of Oakwood Cemetery.
The company behind that solar array, Sunrise Community Solar, has also proposed a ground-mounted array of solar panels on about 6.5 acres of an undeveloped 25-acre site at 180 South Bedford Road near Marsh Sanctuary.
The Town of Bedford may soon have a solar array in its backyard, too. The Bedford Central School District is considering a proposal from Brightcore Energy to lease approximately 30 acres behind West Patent Elementary School for the establishment of a solar farm. The BCSD Board of Education is facing intense scrutiny from community members concerned about the environmental implications of a solar farm at that site. Ms. Roos said between 3,000 and 6,000 trees would be removed to make way for the facility. The existing property is composed of an upland hardwood forest, upland meadows and wetlands. “So, it’s a pretty precious piece of property,” Ms. Roos said. “I want solar, I believe in it, I just don’t want to cut down trees for it.”
She also stressed that “commercial solar arrays are completely different” from the solar panels people ordinarily see on their neighbor’s roofs. “They’re huge and they make a lot of noise,” she said, noting, “It’s not this benign thing that’s out in the woods.”
Marilyn Shapiro, another Conservation Board member, also expressed caution about fully embracing solar energy. “Solar is not going to answer all of our energy problems,” she said. “I’d hate to see us going into this frenzy of solar and cutting down everything and, all of sudden, within five or 10 years, there’s something that’s much more benign.”
Ms. Grogan said discussions about solar technology are understandably fraught. “This is the intersection of two environmental things that we all want — we want trees and all the benefits that they provide, and we want the power of the sun to heat our homes. So, it’s the intersection of these two things where unfortunately there’s going to be a bit of conflict.”