Bill would slow transformation of farmland to industrial use
Proposal spurred by rapid loss of New York open space to solar, wind farms
Albany Times Union - August 14, 2019
Spurred on by an annexation battle in his district, a Capital Region lawmaker has proposed a one-year moratorium on converting farmland into industrial sites through the annexation process. The bill proposed by Democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara of Schenectady, also speaks to what agriculturalists say is the continuing loss of farmland in New York state. That pace may increase as some prime farm plots are eyed as potential solar or wind farms, needed to meet the state’s ambitious clean energy goals.
Times Union August 14, 2019
Rkarlin@timesunion.com • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU
Saving Greene: Citizens for Sensible Solar is a pro-solar Coxsackie NY organization that advocates siting utility-scale solar plants in places where they make sense. Brownfields, capped landfills, decommissioned power plants: these are the sites we should be using before consuming productive farmland and environmentally sensitive lands.
Chicago-based Hecate Energy has proposed to build the 50-megawatt (MW) Greene County Solar Facility on prime farmland and sensitive environmental habitat in the Town of Coxsackie. The developers call it a "solar farm." The State of New York calls it a "major electric generating facility." The Greene County Solar Facility consists of three units with separate substations that Hecate plans to sell as separate plants.
The largest solar plant in the eastern United States has a capacity of 32 MW. Proposed for an area of over 800 acres of active farmland, Hecate’s 50-MW facility would comprise 185,000 panels covering 400 acres of the site, along with inverters, substations, fencing, security lighting, access roads, and collection/transmission lines. According to current project maps, panels would be placed directly on wetlands as well as on prime farmland and farmland of statewide importance. The rest of the site includes more wetlands, woods, and habitat for endangered and threatened species. Up to 100 acres of the site might be kept in agricultural production.
All of this land is surrounded by residential and rural residential neighborhoods, with little or no buffering between this enormous facility and nearby residences or roadways. Only the most minimal setbacks are proposed. Some landowners would have arrays located on two or more sides of their properties. The site’s rolling topography makes it particularly difficult to mitigate viewsheds. Hecate acknowledges that not all views can be remediated with installed landscaping
The future of eastern Greene County’s rural character and natural habitats depends on guiding growth with the landscape and wildlife in mind. Fortunately, local habitats have been studied extensively, and there are opportunities to conserve key portions of the landscape as the region develops.
read the Greene County Grasslands Report
The site’s grasslands and open fields make it suitable for winter hunting and year-round habitat for the state-endangered short-eared owl and state-threatened northern harrier hawk, along with the other threatened and endangered species in the facility area. Additionally, these fields are a popular stopping-point on the Atlantic Flyway, a migratory route for 14 species of birds.
But doesn’t local zoning prohibit the development of a solar plant in a residential district? Ordinarily yes, but the facility is being sited under Article 10 of the NYS Public Service Law, which takes siting control away from local communities. Even home rule is denied: the constitutionally guaranteed right of local municipalities to make decisions about their own futures (NYS Constitution, Article IX, Section 1).
“To reduce conflicts, areas with high agricultural, visual, ecological, historic and conservation values should be avoided for renewable energy development. Instead, low-conflict sites and areas—such as brownfields, previously disturbed and developed lands, or closed landfills—should be identified and prioritized for development.” —Scenic Hudson: Clean Energy, Green Communities.
We owe our children a habitable planet, but we also owe them the beauty and diversity of wildlife that we enjoy every day, as well as productive farmland. Our children need to thrive as well as survive. Consequently we oppose siting utility-scale solar plants in these places:
Dwindling habitat for endangered and threatened species
Residential districts with rolling topography where plants cannot be concealed from all views and can reduce property values
Agricultural land in active production
According to the proposed Greene County Solar Facility Preliminary Scoping Statement (PSS) and preliminary maps, the site for this facility includes all of the above and serves a natural buffer for extensive wildlife populations.
"I am strongly opposed to this irresponsible solar project that will... destroy our rich natural resources including open spaces, farmlands, wetlands, and rare lands that were once quarried by prehistoric peoples and Algonquin tribes. This will cripple tourism to the area that is a viable source of much-needed revenue for Greene County." – LP, Coxsackie resident