Mt. Pleasant Entertains Solar Panel Request at Gate of Heaven Cemetery

Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne could be home to a 7.5-million-kilowatt ground-mounted solar panel array if applicant CES Hawthorne Solar receives town approval.

Mount Pleasant Planning Board members asked for additional information last week before moving ahead with a public hearing for a proposed solar array on a portion of Gate of Heaven Cemetery’s land in Hawthorne.

CES Hawthorne Solar, LLC is asking the town to consider a ground-mounted array of about 15,000 panels on 32 unused acres of the grounds that would produce 7.5 million kilowatts of green energy a year. That would be enough to power about 1,000 residential homes each year.

Steven Onidshin, project manager for CES Hawthorne Solar, said the land would be leased for 25 years on a piece of the cemetery that is not expected to be used for decades. It would also generate revenue for town since the cemetery is in trust for St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which does not get taxed.

There would be a payment in lieu of taxes agreement that is currently being negotiated by the town’s tax assessor but is expected to provide $55,000 to $60,000 a year in revenue for the duration of the lease, said project engineer Mark Zelina.

“This is a direct benefit to the tax rolls and does not places a drain on school districts or infrastructure,” Onidshin said.

The cemetery, which measures more than 200 acres, would carve out 46 acres for the array, although the panels would be spread over 32 acres.

The board rejected a request by the applicant’s representatives to schedule a public hearing because there were key pieces of information missing from its presentation. Board members asked CES Hawthorne Solar to return with information on how it plans to maintain the site where the panels would be installed and for the removal of the equipment and restoration of the land once the lease expires.

Members also asked for the fire department to weigh in on how it would fight a blaze should one occur as well as input from the building inspector and the town engineer.

“I don’t think we have enough here to schedule a public hearing,” said board member James Collins. “These are not minor items, they’re huge items.”

He also wanted to learn more about a comment made during the presentation by the applicant’s attorney, James Kirkpatrick, that raised eyebrows. Kirkpatrick said the power generated would provide lower-cost electricity to parishes and qualified town residents.

Board member Joan Lederman said while the additional revenue would be beneficial to the community, she was highly skeptical of the current effectiveness of solar power.

“We’re clear-cutting 30 acres of trees and destabilizing the slopes for solar panels,” Lederman said. “Solar panels are ineffective and very expensive, that’s why most people don’t have them on their homes because the government, both state and federal, pay them to do that, and federal and state governments are no doubt paying Con Edison to do this too, which is one of the reasons why they’re doing it.”

Board Chairman Michael McLaughlin wanted to learn from the assessor’s office how much the acreage that will be used for the panels would generate if the land was taxed. He said he hoped the Town Board won’t be negotiating away a benefit that is well below what the town might derive in taxes.

Another board member, Jane Abbate, offered that the proposed screening of 150 trees and plants seems thin considering the panels will be over 32 acres.

McLaughlin explained the board needs direction from its professionals on staff before it would move forward.

“The Planning Board does not schedule a public hearing until we have gotten from the building inspector and the town engineer a written statement that they think it’s ready,” he said.

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