Cornell webinar outlines solar farm lease guidelines

Watertown Daily Times

LOWVILLE — To lease or not to lease, that is the question many farmers around the state, especially in the north country, are asking themselves after being approached with a potential lease agreement from solar farm developers.

Matt Johnson, planning director for the Tug Hill Commission, and David Kay, senior extension associate for the Department of Global Development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, provided insight into the various rules, laws and guidelines that govern site selection for large-scale solar projects while also drawing attention to the land opportunities available and being embraced by solar companies during an hour-long webinar organized by the Climate Smart Farming Program at Cornell University on Friday.

Mr. Kay said work is being done on specific solar leasing laws and topics like the co-location of grazing, field crops and “pollinators” — perennial bushes and plants that attract bees, butterflies and other pollen-spreading insects.

Mr. Kay advises farmers who are approached by solar developers and are offered a lease agreement to read through the entire agreement carefully themselves, speak to local experts on land use and “get a lawyer.”

Mr. Johnson talked the more than 100 webinar attendees through the legal tools municipal governments can use, for example creating a temporary prohibition on certain types of land development to give them time to create a comprehensive land-use plan.

Strong local zoning laws and a zoning board that is willing to use all of the tools at its disposal can help ensure the use of prime farmland and negative impact on the community as a whole is kept to a minimum. These tools include requesting decommissioning plans and requesting a bond or deposit so decommissioning can be completed even if something happens to the company.

The fast-paced webinar will be on the Program’s website, climatesmartfarming.org, next week.

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