Ask the Expert: A Limitless Resource

June 21, 2022

Sullivan County Democrat – “A Sustainable Tomorrow”, A Quarterly Publication of DRS
By Autumn Schanil

As a child raised in upstate New York, David Plante loved being outdoors, fueled by his deep curiosity for the environment around him. He spent summers as a camper and volunteer at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Teenage Ecology Camp at Pack Forest, and during High School was involved in the New York State Envirothon program – competing in the fields of aquatic ecology, soils, wildlife, forestry, and current environmental topics.

Plante later attended Siena College, earning his Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies, followed by his Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Albany. “I was fortunate that Siena College had a great Environmental Studies program led by Dr. Larry Woolbright,” Plante said. “[The courses] exposed me to so many different facets of ecology; from amphibian ecological field work at the
Saratoga Battlefield to acid level sampling in Adirondack lakes, to how the environment shaped great literature by the likes of Edward Abbey, Robert Frost, Henry David Thoreau, and Aldo Leopold,” he continued.

“I was hooked and knew I wanted to make a career being outside, along with working on transformational projects.” Plante has now been in the private environmental consulting field for 17 years, is a Certified Planner by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and is one of a handful of planners that hold an AICP Advanced Specialty Certification as a Certified Environmental Planner. Currently the Energy + Environment Practice Leader for Bergmann – a planning, engineering and architecture firm of over 400 people headquartered in Rochester, and an affiliate of the 2,000 person firm Colliers Engineering & Design – many consider Plante an Expert in his field. “Most of my 17-year career has been involved in environmental impact assessment and wetland impact planning and permitting,” Plante stated. “I started right out of college delineating wetlands and performing threatened/endangered species studies for some large projects, including the Luther Forest Technology Campus in Malta.”

Plante’s expertise has mostly been centered around project planning to avoid and minimize impacts to wetlands and other waters of the United States, as well as performing environmental impact assessments as defined and regulated under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) for private sector projects as well as assisting municipal clients with their obligations under SEQRA:
reviewing projects thoroughly and accurately. “Within the past five years my experience has grown to include due diligence, design, environmental impact assessment, permitting, and construction phase compliance for nearly 500MW of community and utility scale solar projects here in New York as well as several other states,” he said.

“My hope is that we are able to create more community scale and utility scale solar projects across New York to get us to the big benchmark set by the Governor for having 70 percent of our electricity derived from renewable sources by 2030 which, currently, we’ll need a lot more solar arrays here in the state to accomplish this goal.” One of the ways in which this can be done, according to Plante, is by better educating municipalities across the State in what sensible solar development looks like, in hopes that those municipalities don’t pass solar laws restricting solar development. Rather than stagnant rows of metal, Plante talked about the future of solar involving agrivoltaics – the simultaneous use of areas of land for both solar power generation and agriculture.

Currently, Plante stated, that he and his company champion projects that utilize pollinator-friendly seed mixes and install hives to encourage bee colonies to live, thrive, and expand. On other projects they employ solar grazing with rotational sheep herds that both allow farmers to have a place to graze their animals while providing a type of lawn maintenance service for the solar developers. All of this perhaps leading to more agrivoltaic activities like growing crops around and under panels to keep the ground in production. “There are so many wide ranging facets to solar projects, from understanding environmental regulations and zoning codes to knowing what potential species and habitats might be impacted by projects, and how to monitor and mitigate those impacts, to electrical and civil engineering concepts that inform how a solar project is designed to the economic considerations that go into making a project developable,” Plante explained. “Being able to speak confidently and technically about a project while also possessing the soft skills to talk to a landowner who is passionately tied to their land and ensuring them you and your client will be a good steward of a property that their family has owned for generations is all so important to inching us forward toward our goal of New York being the clean energy capital of the country.”

And a common misconception that Plante encounters quite often at Planning Board meetings for solar projects is the question of it being too cloudy and winter being too long for solar to benefit or work in upstate New York. Recent technological developments in solar, according to Plante, such as tracker panels that follow the sun across the sky throughout the day to maximize production as well as bifacial panels that allow the underside of panels to generate electricity from sunlight bouncing off the snow and ground have made solar that much more possible.

And of course, no solar project would be before the board if it wasn’t feasible. “On the scale of humanity’s time on Earth,” Plante added, “the sun is a limitless, inexhaustible resource that rises every morning and sets every evening. “To not harness it to either supplement or replace the more traditional electricity generation sources would be a big missed opportunity, for me personally. “Both working in the solar field and as a community solar subscriber, it’s a way I can leave the planet a better and greener place for my three children and their children going forward,” he said.