By Paul Post
A Latham-based firm’s proposed green energy project would combat climate change while helping people enjoy the great outdoors at a former golf course property in northern Saratoga County.
U.S. Light Energy has a plan for solar array combined with a 146-site motor coach campground and 26 cabins at the 203-acre former Tee Bird South Golf Club on Route 197 in Moreau, about four miles from Northway Exit 17.
The 5-year-old company has already built 15 generating stations across New York in the booming solar industry, with more than twice that in various stages of permitting and construction both in and out of state.
“It’s an exciting project,” said Michael Fingar, the firm’s chief operating officer. “It gives us an opportunity to take advantage of more land than we typically would. The property is well situated to do something pretty dynamic. We hope to begin work late next summer or fall if everything goes well.”
The proposed project, costing up to $20 million, is currently before the Moreau Town Planning Board, which is charged with making a recommendation to the Town Board about its viability. If viewed favorably by the Town Board, the project would go back to the Planning Board for final site plan review, where details are scrutinized.
U.S. Light Energy’s first project was in Clifton Park. It also has developed generating stations in Texas and Pennsylvania, and is seeking entry into other Northeast markets as well.
A National Grid transmission line cuts through the Moreau golf course site, which went out of business 12 years ago. The proposed solar array would be set back on the rear part of the property, out of view from the highway or nearby homes. Electricity would go onto the grid, a requirement of the state’s Community Solar Program, and wouldn’t power the campground directly.
Motor home sites and cabins would be located toward the front, on Route 197. Plans also call for a 1.2-mile multi-use recreation trail that could be used year-round for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Motor home use would likely be seasonal, from late spring to early autumn. But by having cabins, the campground could be used year-round, Fingar said.
“We’re supporting the green energy movement and combating climate change on one side of the transmission corridor, and promoting the enjoyment of recreation on the other,” he said. “The whole idea is protecting the environment.”
The site is only a few miles from Moreau Lake State Park, the state park system’s busiest campground, about midway between Saratoga Springs and Lake George, used by more than 100,000 visitors each summer. For many people, it’s a less expensive way to stay overnight when attending the most popular concerts at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
Quite often, the state park is booked solid during such events. Overflow visitors might find a nearby privately-run campground a convenient option.
And the Moreau site’s proximity to the region’s many vacation-type attractions would make it easy for recreation vehicle owners to come and go as they please. Sites would likely be rented on a short-term basis from several days to a couple of weeks, rather than an entire season, Fingar said.
In recent years, other parties have expressed interest in opening an RV campground in Moreau, although not at this particular site, he said.
A definite business model hasn’t been adopted, but U.S. Light Energy would likely contract with an experienced campground operator to run the resort portion of its project.
Likewise, the company develops properties, but hires outside contractors to install solar panel arrays. Plans call for 32,000 ground-mounted panels.
Fingar said it’s unclear how many construction jobs and how much full- and part-time employment the campground would support. He described the campground as “luxury” in nature because it would have amenities such as athletic courts, the hiking trail, pavilions, a clubhouse complete with media room, barbecue area and enhanced landscaping, features not always found elsewhere.
The golf course property was purchase by Energy Impact Partners, a Manhattan investment partner of U.S. Light Energy, for $575,000 on Aug. 31, 2020.
This is the first time U.S. Light Energy has attempted to combine two entirely dissimilar uses at one property. The company was forced think outside the box and design a more creative venture because of the site’s infrastructure limitations.
There is no municipal water and sewer, which would have made it difficult to develop a more traditional subdivision with single-family homes or apartment units.
“That really locked us in to a select few uses that we could do,” Fingar said. “We just feel, based on our discussions with consultants, that it’s a need that can be fulfilled by providing this.”
Latham-based C.T. Male Associates is working with U.S. Light Energy to design and help get the project approved.