WHITEHALL — Nestled on 22 acres of hillside just past the intersection of routes 18 and 21 in the town of Whitehall are 14,589 solar panels. And this solar array, sitting on a third of John Millett’s land, blends with the landscape, looking more like light gray mountains than an energy source designed to power 85 percent of Gore Mountain Ski Resort’s power needs.
“It is designed to follow the terrain. It is TerraSmart racking,” said John Millett Jr., who leases about 30 acres of his 80 acres for the solar project. “This way, there is no damage to the land.”
In a ribbon-cutting ceremony officially announcing the completion of the Millett Whitehall Solar Array on Friday morning, local and state officials praised the initiative that started two years ago.
“It’s a win-win,” said Whitehall Supervisor George Armstrong. “The town gets more tax income than they were getting, the landowner makes significant income, there is more renewable energy. Every town should look at doing it. Keeping the status quo is unacceptable.”
State Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, echoed Armstrong’s sentiments.
“It is good for the town, the landowner, the state,” he said. “Any drop of oil we don’t have to get from the Middle East is a good thing.”
The 5.3-megawatt Whitehall solar installation, a combined project of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the Olympic Regional Development Authority and Borrego Solar, supports Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Clean Energy Standard for the state. And it moves New York closer to meeting Cuomo’s 100 percent renewable energy goal for the state’s three ski areas — Gore Mountain in North Creek, Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington and Belleayre Ski Center in Highmount — by 2030.
“It took a lot of vision and creativity to set this up. ... One thing I learned about solar, it doesn’t have to have sun,” said state Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury. “Now, 85 percent of all the energy Gore Mountain uses to keep everything running is renewable. This is important for our environment.”
The Whitehall solar installation, which was operating at full capacity in September 2016, provides 85 percent of Gore Mountain’s energy through a financial credit for the power generated from the Whitehall solar array to a nearby substation.
Landowner Millett said having the installation next to the home he shares with his wife and father is no problem.
“We were the first ones in the area and we’ve been through the growing pains,” he said. “I would do it again. It is the cleanest energy.”
And because of the switch to solar, Gore Mountain has been awarded four environmental awards.
“The last one was the Golden Eagle, from SKI magazine. It’s the most prestigious environmental award,” said Mike Pratt, president and CEO of ORDA.
According to news accounts, the solar energy project — estimated to save Gore $213,043 in the first year and a cumulative savings by 2020 of $9,985,787 — was a big reason the ski resort was given the 2016 award.
“This is a key step in meeting our environmental goals,” said Bone Bayse, general manager of Gore, explaining that the solar energy project is only one of many changes Gore officials have taken toward protecting the environment. “We replaced all our snow guns for more efficiency. All our lights are LED. Our sinks and toilets have been replaced with low flow. It’s important to continue to look at being good stewards of the environment.”
Armstrong, Whitehall’s supervisor, said there are two other solar projects underway in Whitehall.
“On Cemetery Lane in Whitehall there is one half this size,” he said. “And over on Route 4 there is one about this size. ... We will have about 55 acres of solar in total. We’re going to get significantly more tax dollars.”