Saranac Lake solar farm plan begins to take shape

Vanguard Atlantic Ltd. owns this property on state Route 86 north of Saranac Lake, seen Friday, and hopes to put a solar farm there in the future. (Enterprise photo — Jesse Adcock)

SARANAC LAKE — Plans to rezone land north of the village have moved on to the Harrietstown Planning Board, bringing its owner’s dreams of constructing a solar farm on the property one step closer to reality.

In 1999, Ernest “Lee” Keet’s company Vanguard Atlantic Ltd. (VAL) bought 21.8 acres from James and Denise McCormick. James McCormick told the Enterprise in 1999 that at that time, Walmart was also approaching him about the land’s availability.

Keet had initially moved through the processes to get the land zoned as commercial.

“The purchase agreement said it was commercial,” Keet said. “The county taxed it as commercial for all these years.”

However, while the Harrietstown Planning Board approved of the commercial sale on March 30, 1999, the town tax rolls were never updated to reflect that fact, instead listing the land as residential.

Now, if one is of the mind to build a solar farm, one cannot do so legally in an area under residential zoning. So Keet brought his rezoning request back to the Harrietstown Town Council, who approved the request on Thursday night.

“It’s a fix. There was a step missed,” Keet said. “It’s only when we started a dialogue with the code enforcement officer that we found out.”

According to Keet, for the last 18 years VAL, of which he is CEO and chief investment officer, has been seeking out the best use of this property. While chasing a commercially viable usage, Keet was also after something that was environmentally friendly and wouldn’t light up the night sky. In 2015, VAL hired Sunvestment Energy Group of Rochester to perform a feasibility study for a solar farm on the property.

“And this came out on top.” Keet said. “A little between 2 and 3 megawatts available to everyone.”

If built to completion, residents of Saranac Lake and Lake Placid would be able to buy credits in the solar farm, which may accrue a reduction in their energy bill for their home or business. Now that the rezoning has been approved by the town council, it will return to the planning board to order an State Environmental Quality Review of the proposed rezoning plan in order to measure the ecological consequences of the construction plan, and assure state Adirondack Park Agency compliance.

“We’re still in the middle of planning,” he said. “We’re hoping to offer lower energy rates from green sources. I can’t assure you it will be commercially viable. But I am hopeful and reasonably confident.”