One of the nation's largest solar power development companies has submitted plans to cover 900 acres of central Niagara County farmland with solar panels 12 feet high.
The $210 million project proposed by Cypress Creek Renewables of Santa Monica, Calif., would be the largest solar farm in the state, according to Cambria Supervisor Wright H. Ellis, who said the town "is trying to keep an open mind" on the plan. However, the state Department of Public Service says even larger projects are being proposed elsewhere in the state.
Final approval would be in the hands of a state siting board similar to one used for wind power projects, such as the controversial Lighthouse Wind project in Somerset and Yates.
According to a 76-page preliminary submission to the state Department of Public Service, Cypress Creek's project, dubbed Bear Ridge Solar, would be able to generate 100 megawatts of power, enough to provide electricity for 25,000 homes.
Public records show 375 acres in the target area are owned by Cambria Councilman Joseph Ohol and his family.
Ellis said Ohol will not be allowed to take part in any Town Board deliberations or votes regarding the proposal "because of his conflict of interest."
Ohol, who did not return calls seeking comment, is listed in the state application as having attended several meetings with the company.
The application maps a 5,000-acre study area, extending from Upper Mountain Road in Cambria south to Mapleton Road in Pendleton. The study area is bounded by Junction Road and Campbell Boulevard to the east and Cambria Road to the west.
A major National Grid transmission line runs through the heart of the area, between Lockport and Saunders Settlement roads, and the developers intend to feed the output of the solar panels into the power grid there. A power substation would be built on Comstock Road in Cambria.
The target area includes the "Cambria Technology Park," which actually is 152 acres of fields on Lockport Road, bearing a sign that the state has deemed it "shovel-ready" for development.
Ellis said he learned two years ago that Cypress Creek was interested in Cambria.
"When we were originally approached in 2016, they were talking about three 20-acre parcels," Ellis said. "I was surprised at the end of March when they told me they wanted 600 acres. Now it's 900."
The company wants 750 acres in Cambria and 150 acres in adjoining Pendleton.
A source with knowledge of the project said the leases for solar sites envision annual payments of $1,500 per acre for up to 40 years.
A Cypress Creek spokesman did not respond to requests to confirm those figures.
Cambria has a law limiting commercial-grade solar energy development to its minuscule industrial zone. Major rezoning would be needed to accommodate the project, Ellis said.
Cypress Creek has solar farms online in 13 states, including New York, and is working on projects in 17 other states.