DELMAR — National Grid flipped the switch on its proposed $15 million substation.
The Bethlehem Zoning Board canceled last week’s public hearing on the Van Dyke substation because the utility company pulled the proposal off the table.
“We revised our plan, basically,” said Patrick Stella, a National Grid spokesperson. “We’ve been looking at this plan for five or six years, and we had a lot of studies done on that. Over the time, however, things have changed a little bit.”
Those plans appeared to have had the town’s engineering consultant convinced in 2018. Powers Engineering had reviewed National Grid’s assessment, which included 61 potential locations for a new substation. The utility company had narrowed the number of sites down based on the location’s proximity to a transmission line, and to the feeders providing energy along the Delaware Avenue corridor and beyond.
The proposal first crossed the town’s zoning board in 2014, just as Monolith Solar was courted to be a key anchor to Vista Technology Campus. Today, the 440-acre mixed-use development is home to several businesses, none of which fit the descriptions for technology. Up until two years ago, Monolith Solar was expected to fill that void.
The solar firm was in the midst of building a 16,000-square-foot administration building two years ago. Once finished, the company was expected to move all of its employees from its Rensselaer home office, plus create another 76 jobs over the next five years. However, just a few months after construction began on the Slingerlands headquarters, Monolith and its affiliate SAE Sun and Earth Technology announced significant layoffs.
Pioneer Bank of Colonie foreclosed on the property last April. The lender had provided a $3 million loan towards the construction of the administration building, a 10,000-square-foot warehouse and a subsequent solar farm, and decided to take possession of the beleaguered site. At present, only a skeleton framework of a building remains on the site. Construction ceased only months after it began.
National Grid cited those changes to the Vista campus as one of “many factors” that led the utility company to scrap the proposal. Another factor was the push back the company received from Bethlehem Central School District. Those concerns centered around the introduction of electromagnetic fields at close proximity to Eagle Elementary, which stands less than half a mile away from the proposed site.
In 2015, eight residents spoke against construction of the substation proposed for that location and an Eagle Elementary student submitted a petition with 105 signatures opposing it. In addition, the board received 11 emails in opposition; three conveyed concern and just one was in favor of the project.
The proposal had gone back and forth with some pauses as the utility company addressed resident concerns. As recently as last month, the utility company tried convincing the town that it was in desperate need of a new substation in order to address consumption needs.
Andrew Leja, an attorney from Barclay Damon representing the London-based utility company, likened the situation to a person in need of a pacemaker, and that the operation was needed a decade ago.
“You have a patient walk in with a heart arrhythmia, and it needs to be addressed,” Leja said last month. In his analogy, he said National Grid had placed all the bandages it could to maintain the town’s aging infrastructure. “Ultimately, the need for the pacemaker remains. And, you don’t place the pacemaker in the foot, knee or even the abdomen. You place it closest to where it’s actually going to do the work.”
Had the Van Dyke proposal gone through, National Grid had planned to close two aging substations. The Delmar substation that abuts the Albany County Rail Trail off Adams Street and the Juniper substation north of Elm Avenue Park would have each been dismantled in the plan.
National Grid now plans to upgrade the Delmar substation and another on Krumkill Road. According to Stella, upgrades to the Delmar substation will include replacing two transformers with one, larger transformer bank.