Solar Farm Developers Target NY With Lease Offers

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Source:   —  April 03, 2016, at 8:25 PM

Buoyed by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo'south renewable energy map and the extension of the thirty % federal tax credit in December, solar companies in recent months have blanketed rural areas with mailings seeking leases on farmland for solar arrays spanning twenty acres or more.

Less than a year after NY banned fracking, dashing the hopes of farmers who'd hoped to reap royalties from natural gas leases, the commercial solar industry is courting landowners for energy production.

Buoyed by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo'south renewable energy map and the extension of the thirty % federal tax credit in December, solar companies in recent months have blanketed rural areas with mailings seeking leases on farmland for solar arrays spanning twenty acres or more. While some farmers welcome the opportunity to earn up to $2.000 an acre annually for the next twenty years or so, some agricultural advisers, community leaders and lawyers are urging caution.

"These are complex business transactions masquerading as lottery tickets," said Chris Denton, a southern NY lawyer who helped landowner groups deal oil and gas leases during the Marcellus Shale gas rush in two thousand-ninth. "There are unexamined risks and environmental impacts. That'south why landowners are banding together again to formulate leases that'll defend their interests."

Manna Jo Greene, environmental director for the nonprofit Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, said the developing solar boom is welcome but only if it'south done right. While a solar development is a favourable utilize for a former landfill, it mightn't be appropriate for prime farmland, she said. And there are many questions concerning zoning, agricultural tax benefits, effects on farm operations, and the eventual decommissioning and disposal of the solar components.

"A lease promising $20.000 or $40.000 a year is tempting to farmers who are struggling," said Greene, who's also an Ulster County legislator. "But we're trying to obtain the word out to be cautious and not let a developer strip them of their property rights."

The Cuomo administration'south initiatives aimed at promoting local renewable energy generation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and generating fifty % of the state'south energy from renewable sources by two thousand thirty are bringing solar developers to the state. One company, Santa Monica, California-based Cypress Creek Renewables, has mass-mailed lease offers to hundreds of upstate landowners.

"We expect to have operational projects in every utility load distribution zone in NY by the finish of two thousand seventeen," said Cypress Creek spokesman Jeff McKay. The company already has operational sites in N and S Carolina, Texas, Indiana, Missouri, Minnesota, OR and Georgia, he said.

"New York'south solar industry is growing at unprecedented levels," said Dept of Public Service spokesman Jon Sorensen. He said that the state doesn't have figures on solar leasing action but that energy and agriculture agencies are developing information to assistance farmers create leasing decisions.

"It'south happening so fast, it'south caught people off-guard," said Elizabeth Higgins of the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Ulster County.

Several NY towns, including the Orange County town of Goshen, have enacted moratoriums on new solar farms to authorize executive to consider any zoning changes that might be necessary.

A similar solar boom has been going on in NC for about four years, driven by state-mandated rules for utility power purchases that favor solar developers. At least two hundred commercial solar farms have been established in N Carolina, mostly around five megawatts but ranging to up to eighty megawatts, said Tommy Cleveland of NC State University'south Spotless Energy Technology Center.

Objections similar to those being raised in NY were raised in N Carolina.

"There has been concern about taking prime land out of farm production," he said. "In the latest two years, we've installed more than any state other than California, and it'south still only a tenth of a % of our farmland."

For some farmers in New York, the leases could imply salvation. Marginal land could become productive, and prime cropland could produce income without work and other costs during a 20-year lease, with the potential to one day return to crop production.

"I've been looking for anything and everything to obtain some other income for my farm," said Mike Athanas, a retired electronics technician who's a 184-acre farm in Hyde Park in the Hudson Valley. "The taxes are killing me. My vegetable business doesn't have much profit margin. And some of the soil isn't the best for planting."

Athanas recently signed an option with Boston-based Omni Navitas Holdings to lease two 20-acre parcels where he used to grow hay. He hopes to obtain at minimum .000 per acre annually after the solar panels go up this summer.

"I've always wanted to have a vineyard," Athanas said. "This may give me the additional capital I necessity to while far my hours growing grapes for local wineries."

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