A Warning of What Happens When AMP Energy Comes to Town
AMP Energy is on a quest to be a “supermajor” player in the energy transition but is causing great damage to communities along the way. The multinational energy company is queuing up for the string of industrial solar projects in the town of Shutesbury as well as for the Shutesbury Road project in Amherst. Their last application for Shutesbury Rd was so poor that it had to be withdrawn or it would have been rejected.
Smart Solar Amherst recently reported on their findings about another AMP project —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. Work stoppage, collapsed solar panels, massive structural failures and subcontractor liens for 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.
Oak Hill Solar construction began in the spring of 2022 with significant progress throughout the summer and fall. Construction stopped sometime in December. According to reports from abutters, who have continued to document the solar 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 mechanics liens have been filed against the property owner, GreenCells USA and AMP. The liens are for non-payment of goods and services totaling more than $2.3 million dollars. The liens were filed by various sub-contractors who worked on the project in 2022 and have not been paid.
Smart Solar Amherst collected documents from the Oak Hill Solar project, including annotated drone images taken by abutters, a copy of the tracker spec sheet, and a few of the liens on the project. The images clearly show many long rows of collapsed solar panels, posts and support structures. It appears that many additional support posts still attached to standing arrays are bent or out of plumb. Abutters have confirmed that the mounting systems appear to have failed. There is concern about how the posts were anchored and whether the posts were designed to support the weight of a long solar tracker array heavily loaded with snow. It is important to note that the posts and supports were part of a tracking system which may be the same or similar to the system proposed for Hickory Ridge.
What does any of this have to do with the town of Amherst?
1. We believe that it is critical that the Town of Amherst 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 could happen here due to the challenge of anchoring posts in the deep clay present at the Amherst site. We note that solar sites in Hadley, which we assume are a similar soil type, are all anchored on fixed position support systems. It may be that a tracking system might not work here. We would hope that an independent engineer will examine this issue BEFORE any building permit is issued.
2. The issue of non-payment to sub-contractors should be of particular concern to the Town of Amherst which is now in a partnership with AMP at Hickory Ridge. We would expect that the town would want sub-contractors treated fairly, and not forced to file liens in order to get paid. Hastie Fence, a local company, is presently working hard at the site. Do they need to worry about being paid for their work and the materials they are supplying?
3. It is important to note that the liens have been filed against the landowner in addition to AMP and Greencells 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?
We note that 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.” Supermajor is the name previously employed to describe the world's five or six largest publicly-owned oil and gas companies. What effect has this acquisition had on AMP’s ability 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?
Members of Smart Solar Amherst are residents interested in seeing solar power flourish. 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.