Opinion: New Concerns About Hickory Ridge Solar Project
by Jenny Kallick and Michael Lipinski
A few months ago, we published an article revealing that AMP had hired Dynamic Energy Systems to build their solar installation on Hickory Ridge in Amherst. In this article, we expressed concern that Dynamic had recently been found responsible and fined for extensive damage to a local watershed in Williamsburg. Thankfully, town officials responded to these concerns and appear to be monitoring construction activities closely.
We have recently learned some additional facts about AMP’s work at Oak Hill Solar project, presently under construction in Duanesburg, New York. It is a 65-acre solar project with a battery storage component. AMP is the project owner and GreenCells USA is the contractor. Massive structural failures and unpaid bills of $2.3 million reveal a project in disarray. It is important for Amherst to protect itself from a similar fate at Hickory Ridge. We are calling on the town to consider what can be learned by the Duanesburg problems BEFORE issuing a building permit for Hickory Ridge.
Oak Hill Solar construction began in 2022 with significant progress throughout the summer and fall. According to reports from abutters, who have continued to document the site with reports and photos, around December 22, 2022, a strong snowstorm hit the site and caused major damage to many rows of solar panels. Even more distressing is the fact that five months later, many hundreds of feet of broken solar panels are still lying on the ground and no cleanup effort has been made. As of May 2023, there is still no substantial activity at Oak Hill Solar. Construction on the project appears to be halted, and it is unclear what will happen next.
In another troubling development, several mechanical liens have been filed against the Duanesburg property owner and AMP. The liens are for non-payment of goods and services totaling more than $2.3 million. The liens were filed by various sub-contractors who worked on the project in 2022 and have not been paid.
Below is a sampling of recent images from the Oak Hill Solar project:
What does any of this have to do with the town of Amherst?
1. We believe that the Town of Amherst should require a third-party engineering review of the mounting post and solar panel tracking system being proposed for use at Hickory Ridge. It could be that the issues that occurred in Duanesburg NY might happen here due to the challenge of anchoring posts in the deep clay present at the Amherst site.
2. The issue of non-payment to sub-contractors should be a particular concern to the Town of Amherst which is now in a partnership with AMP at Hickory Ridge. It is important to note that the liens have been filed against the landowner in addition to AMP and Greencell USA. We do not claim to fully understand the complicated deal involving the acquisition of Hickory Ridge, but it appears that any liens filed on the Hickory Ridge project would also involve the town.
4. The apparent negligence on display at the Oak Hill Solar site should be a warning. What will AMP do at Hickory Ridge if there is a similar incident? Is there a surety bond or indemnification that protects the town against any eventuality?
For further note: on February 21, 2023, AMP announced that it was selling its US-based holdings to a consortium of funds, managed by Fiera Capital Corp and an Australian-based Palisade Infrastructure Group. AMP’s website declares the company’s intention to become “a global energy transition supermajor.” What impact might this acquisition and desire to become a global supermajor have on AMP’s ability to focus on a project in progress, to see a project through to the end, and to pay its bills? Who is really in charge of this company now? Can the town get an answer to this question from AMP?
We hope that the town officials working with AMP on the Hickory Ridge project will continue to closely monitor all aspects of the construction and take advantage of their partnership to get answers to the questions we have raised.
Jenny Kallick and Michael Lipinski are residents of Amherst and members of Smart Solar Amherst
5 thoughts on “Opinion: New Concerns About Hickory Ridge Solar Project”
The Town owes Jenny Kallick and Michael Lipinski a big “Thank You!” for keeping us informed. The least expensive and most valuable result always comes from being aware in advance, and preventing problems before they happen.
Thank you Jenny Kallick and Michael Lipinski for keeping on top of this! Have you received any response and assurance from the Town Manager that the Town is being proactive on this? Town staff are stretched thin these days so I am not confident proper oversight would be possible without outside help.
I walked the Hickory Ridge site in early April and was saddened to see all the healthy trees felled. It would be an environmental disaster if the reason for felling those healthy trees ended up in a situation similar to Williamsburg, MA or Duanesburg, NY.
We sent an even more detailed letter to town officials. We have not received a response.
I completely agree that town staff are “stretched thin.” In addition, applications for solar installations are incomplete when submitted, thereby adding to the burden on town staff. This was the case for Hickory Ridge and also for a Shutesbury Rd 49-acre site submitted in 2020. The Shutesbury Rd application was withdrawn rather than have it rejected by the Conservation Commission. The Hickory Ridge permit was issued with many missing elements, including a missing storm water management plan. Town staff are doing their best to require that Hickory Ridge be constructed with care. It is worth noting that once the building permit is issued for that site, the town no longer has the option to intervene.
Jenny, when do you expect the building permit to be issued? What is the next step and the best way for public engagement on this concern?
Dave Ziomek is overseeing the Hickory Ridge project. Perhaps write and ask for a detailed report on where things stand with the project, including what the town needs from AMP before issuing the building permit and whether there is concern about AMP problems elsewhere. Dave’s response could then be shared. ziomekd@amherstma. gov