By James E. Carr
The recent Buffalo News articles about a “solar farm” proposed for Unity Island may seem like a win-win proposal for Buffalo. Produce electricity for a city facility right next door and reuse a former landfill. In fact, however, this project will be a major mistake for the city’s future development as well as the region as a whole.
There is no special advantage to having a solar farm next to the Sewer Authority’s treatment plant. Any solar farm anywhere in Western New York can provide solar generated electric power to the Buffalo Sewer Authority. Solar power goes into the grid where it then is accessed by the users wherever they are located. During nighttime or other periods when the solar array is not “online,” the grid continues to supply power from other sources.
Many persons and businesses in the city already receive solar power produced elsewhere in the region for their everyday needs. Montante could build this facility anywhere in Western New York and dedicate its power to the Authority.
Unlike the availability of innumerable sites in Western New York for solar farms, the Unity Island site has one locational advantage that cannot be replicated. It is part of the Niagara River Corridor, which is evolving into a world-class recreational and tourist attraction central to the future of our community and region. The significance of the river corridor was identified and detailed in the Niagara River Plan by the Erie and Niagara County Regional Planning Board in the late 1960s. The Riverwalk, which is next to the proposed solar farm, is one example of the river plan’s foresight.
The emerging Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park, which is being redeveloped with a $50 million grant, shows the value of riverfront land. Another $50 million from the Wilson Foundation is dedicated to trails. The Riverwalk Trail forms part of the boundary of the solar facility. The river corridor links us to emerging amenities such as the Erie Canal Gateway Recreation Area, the DL & W Trail (the Riverline Trail), a bike trail to Toronto and the Buffalo Outer Harbor Park complex, which is the southern anchor of the Niagara River Corridor.
The future of our community depends on many things, including factories, businesses, government and medical facilities. Equally important is the quality of life we provide our citizens. A solar farm in this location will add nothing to our quality of life.
People have long said, “Why can’t the American side be like the Canadian side?” But things are changing. Buffalo is making great strides along its riverfront and lakefront. We just need to remain vigilant and focused. What is Buffalo really going to gain with this facility? Nothing! Why go backward now?
James E. Carr is a retired urban planner.