The public hearing for a proposed National Grid substation in Delmar will be extended as the utility prepares more information for the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
National Grid went before the zoning board on Wednesday, Nov. 5, with an application for a new substation to be built at 109 VanDyke Road near the Bethlehem Central School District’s bus garage.
The utility already owns the vacant land, but a use variance and area variance would both be needed for the project to move forward. Utilities are not allowed in areas zoned “Residential A.” Also, the proposed fence, lights and lightening rods are all taller than allowed, along with the use of a spotlight, which isn’t allowed in residential areas.
National Grid’s representative Andrew Leja of Hiscock and Barclay, said variance approval is different for utilities than other development projects.
“It was felt early on that public utilities, because they serve a special purpose and a special benefit to communities, their location may sometimes be dictated because the need of a community for a certain power source, as opposed to what might look the best or fit the best into existing zoning,” Leja said. “Over the years, some municipalities have actually adopted specific zoning for public utilities and have reserved areas where they are generally permitted. That has not been the case in the Town of Bethlehem.”
The property was purchased by National Grid in the 1960s with the specific purpose of building a substation at that location. Nothing came of it at that time, and eventually the area was developed and rezoned as residential.
A variance can be granted for a utility if there is a need and there are no other alternatives that could minimize the disruption to the neighborhood. An environmental assessment has already been done.
Project manager Joseph Stadelmaier said there is a need for the new substation to relieve stress on the area’s smaller and older substations as development increases. This will help to upgrade the system in the area and reduce brownouts in the future.
Building a new substation would also let National Grid retire two smaller substations in the area, the Juniper substation near the Delmar Bypass and the Delmar substation.
Stadelmaier said two alternatives were reviewed in preparation of the project.
One alternative would see a smaller substation built at the Van Dyke location while rebuilding the Delmar station. This plan would not be able to meet regulations and would only be a temporary fix. The second would see adding another transformer at the newer Krumkill station and upgrading the Delmar station, but this would not meet the scheduled needs of the Vista Technology Campus. More land would need to be acquired at the Krumkill station, and a new line would need to be installed under the state Thruway. That would extend the project another two years.
Some board members asked if the Van Dyke substation was being proposed merely to provide more power to Vista. Stadelmaier said no. Only two transformers would be reserved for future needs of Vista, while the other four would help service the rest of the town.
Other board members were concerned about the proposed station’s proximity to two schools. Not only would the school district’s bus garage be next door to the property, but Eagle Elementary and the high school are just down the road.
National Grid was asked to provide more information on how much electricity would be lost by getting it all the way to Vista, what other substations in the Capital District were in close proximity to schools or in residential areas, and why the Juniper station could be ruled out as an alternative site. They also wanted to know what type of screening could be done, because the substation would change the makeup of the neighborhood.
According to early plans, the facility would be set back about 500 feet from Van Dyke Road. The location was also chosen because of its location to a high-voltage T-line, according to Leja. He also said there are numerous failsafes built into the system to stop the power if a problem occurs.
“There’s no fireball because there’s nothing there that can explode,” Leja responded to a question about the potential size of an explosion.
He said the oil is inflammable and the rest is metal.
“There’s no wood structure, no containers of flammable fuel kept on site,” he said.
Leja said the stations have been in people’s backyards for many years, and the new substation would be totally up-to-date with all new safety measures in place.
Neighboring property owner Charles Preska asked if any thought had been put into updating the Unionville substation that currently provides power to the area, and how Monolith Solar’s intended solar panel farm in Vista would impact their analysis.
Preska also said that the last time the power was upgraded in the area, special grounding needed to be done because it was affecting his dairy cows in the barn. He wanted to know if additional grounding would need to be done to isolate the barn from any back-feed from the ground.
Bethlehem School District’s Chief Business and Financial Officer Judith Kehoe said the district is concerned about safety and traffic disruption.
Stadelmaier said the target date is to do the work during the summer break and the hope is to minimize impact. Ductwork would be done in the right-of-way, but Leja said a traffic mitigation plan would be prepared. Board members said they are concerned about the students walking to school, and the number or cars and buses that need to use the road for access to the two schools.
Update:The public hearing for this project has been moved to January as the applicant needs more time before proceeding forward. The hearing will mostly happen on January 21.