LITTLE VALLEY — The Cattaraugus County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board expressed concern Thursday over the loss of prime farmland to large-scale solar developments.
Meeting at the Cattaraugus County Fairgrounds during fair week, the Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board reviewed a draft statement outlining its concerns with the expansion of large solar projects.
The draft statement, which the board tabled for a fall meeting, seeks a balanced approach to the issue.
“We understand the need for landowners to make prudent financial decisions for themselves and their families and the importance of renewable energy, but we ask for a balanced approach,” it states.
Protection of prime agricultural soils are important for the future of farming in Cattaraugus County, the draft states. It “is vital to minimize permanent destruction of soils” in solar development because once disrupted, they cannot be restored to their original state.
The draft also warns landowners that their agricultural exemption could be lost if the land use changes from agriculture to energy production.
The draft concludes by recommending municipalities “steer commercial solar development away from viable agricultural soils and instead focus on developing fallow or nonproductive agricultural land.”
American Farmland Trust states that New York will have paved over, fragmented or compromised 452,000 acres of farmland between 2016 and 2040 — the equivalent of 2,500 farms — with more than 60% of the conversion on nationally significant land.
David Zilker, chairman of the Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board, said the board has discussed the impact of solar farms many times in past years, but their number keeps increasing. Many are on prime agriculture soils, while others require clearing of trees to set solar panels.
Many smaller solar projects are on leased land, he added.
One board member, Charles Couture, said some towns do have solar laws governing solar farms, but do not enforce them.
County planner Racheal Draeget said solar companies often look for towns without zoning laws. The Planning Department has amassed a lot of information on solar farms and local solar laws, Draeget said. The county is trying to encourage towns to make good land use decisions, she added.
County Legislator Don Benson of Allegany told the board the County Legislature’s Public Works Committee is looking at the waste stream of solar installations once they are at the end of their useful life.
The Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency has imposed a six-month moratorium on any additional applications for solar facilities through November.
The IDA focus is the local tax breaks solar developers receive for minimal local labor or suppliers. The IDA is looking for additional local revenues besides the $6,000 per megawatt payment in lieu of taxes solar P.I.L.O.T.