Solar projects approved with continued concern over ag land usage

Solar development in the north country is on the rise, and debate over the use of prime agriculture land for the facilities continues to permeate. Watertown Daily Times

CANTON — The St. Lawrence County Planning Board signed off on four solar projects last week after continued debate over the use of prime agriculture areas by such facilities.

New arrays in the towns of Gouverneur and Edwards, as well as two in the town of Lawrence, were approved with conditions and now head to their respective municipal planning boards for approval. The new projects are being proposed at 1889 County Road 24 in Edwards, 587 and 599 County Road 11 in Gouverneur, 641 Ferris Road in Lawrence and 409 Ferris Road in Lawrence. The four projects would encompass a total of about 164 acres of land.

Some of the most contentious discussion in the four-hour meeting Thursday developed in regards to the proposed projects’ use of agriculture land.

“Looking at the longer view here, which is what planning is about, is we want to ensure that we do maintain and keep our best agricultural land for agricultural purposes,” St. Lawrence County Planning Director Jason C. Pfotenhauer said. “That’s where the struggle comes in.”

The county has taken a relatively firm stance encouraging solar developers not to use space that could otherwise be used for agriculture to erect solar installations. In May, the county Board of Legislators approved a resolution encouraging landowners to do exactly that, but legally it’s up to the municipalities to write appropriate policy and make those calls when projects are proposed.

“We want to make everyone aware that ag is an important industry here in St. Lawrence County, as it is anywhere, but in St. Lawrence County it is a very, very important business. We certainly are appreciative of the need for the solar arrays and the need for renewable energy production,” Mr. Pfotenhauer said.

The board also took issue with the two Lawrence projects’ proposed clear cutting of forest land to make room for more solar arrays. The projects, both from the same developer Omni-Navitas Holdings, LLC, proposed clear cutting a combined 22 acres of forest lands between the two projects.

“That really sort of runs counter to the whole idea of addressing climate change because forests sequester carbon as well. If you’re cutting down a forest to put up a solar array to save the environment, something doesn’t square there,” Mr. Pfotenhauer said.

Both projects were approved with the recommendation of changing their footprint to avoid the forest area, but three Planning Board members voted in opposition.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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