By Emily Folk

Statewide renewable energy initiatives mandated by Governor Andrew Cuomo include an aggressive expansion of solar farms across New York. The number of farms has exploded in the last few months. Due to the influx of potential projects, Cuomo plans to establish a separate permitting office in the Department of Economic Development to handle the demand.

While the largest solar farm currently active in the state is 32 megawatts, many proposed projects in the development stage would generate more than 200 megawatts. The scope of these new proposals is unprecedented. The Conquest project, named after the adjacent town, could provide enough electricity for 30,000 households. Located in Cayuga County, north of Ithaca and west of Syracuse, this 2,000-acre solar farm could power every home in the county.

NextEra Energy, based out of Florida, is responsible for the development of Conquest. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) awarded the utility company 380 megawatts of solar potential divided between two projects. The NYSERDA supported eligible renewable energy plans all across the state, worth a total of $1 billion in funds.

Conquest Solar Farm Project

New York state has set a goal to source 70 percent of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. However, the process of completing the Conquest solar farm may meet some resistance. In rural areas historically dominated by agricultural activity, local feedback has voiced concern that a farm of this magnitude uses valuable agricultural land.

With the average American farmer being more than sixty years old and family operations across the country struggling to keep up, some residents worry that solar may take necessary land from young beginners. However, the concerns over this project are not merely agricultural. There is definitive worry over the aesthetics of solar farms influencing the real estate market and hurting property values.

Compared with current solar projects in New York state, the proposed solar farm is enormous. However, the rate at which organizations install it remains unknown. According to NextEra Energy, the project in Conquest, New York, will not move into production until 2023 at the earliest.

The project must be transparent with the local community on the economic influence in the area, along with any long-term detrimental effects. While the public will have the ability to share questions and concerns regarding the project, as it’s state-funded, the local government has no voting power on the implementation.

NY Renewable Energy Initiatives

To better understand the breadth of these new solar projects, including Conquest, it is necessary to investigate the current sustainability initiatives in New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo is a huge supporter of renewable energy and has made promises to increase the sustainability of energy and economic practices since his original address.

While his objectives may seem far-reaching, there are many signs that the rollout of green actions in the state will be swift. The governor has proposed changing over to a quicker project approval process, reducing the potential time involved in developing a solar farm from five to nine years to less than one.

Solar energy in New York state only accounts for 1 percent of power generation. Most installations are residential, with homeowners incentivized to save money on utilities by adding solar panels to their homes. This move towards widespread adoption will have a significant impact on the electrical grid, especially in rural areas.

Next Steps in Solar Development

The Conquest solar farm project is still in the planning phase, and there is not a date set yet to break ground. The construction and installment of the farm will potentially create 250 temporary jobs for the county, with three or four permanent positions set for long-term maintenance. If the project proceeds without any major objections, the development will have a massive influence on the surrounding area for the next thirty years.

Conquest is one of many large scale solar projects set for development across New York state. Developers are planning a half-dozen large-scale farms that will cover more than 1,000 acres in the Rochester-Finger Lakes region. When installed, these advancements will have a momentous influence on the future of solar generation in New York, the United States and beyond.

Emily Folk is a freelance writer covering topics in green technology and sustainability. You can follow her on her blog, Conservation Folks, or Twitter @EmilySFolk for her latest updates.