MOREAU — Solar power arrays could bring back a dairy farm, while temporarily using about 10 percent of its fields, farmer Patrick Killian told the Moreau Town Board on Tuesday.
Killian has signed a contract to allow solar on about 60 acres of his 500-acre farm. But he can’t actually install the solar arrays yet, because ground-mounted solar panels are not allowed in town.
The Town Board held a public hearing Tuesday on whether to allow the panels, and the board received decidedly mixed opinions.
But Killian argued that he would only install dual-use, temporary solar panels. The anchors would be screwed into the ground without using concrete, so they could be easily removed. They would be installed high enough in the air that animals, such as heifers or goats, could graze, so the land would still be used. The installation is considered dual use if the land can be used for solar and agricultural uses at the same time.
The addition of solar panels would allow him to reopen his dairy farm when his daughter is old enough to run it.
“She wants to get back to the milking,” he said. “Does the town want to support their local dairy?”
He said he looked at 10 different solar companies, considering his options, before finding one offer he liked. The lack of concrete foundations was the deciding factor.
“That changes the game,” he said. “You sign a contract for 20, 30 years. Then you pull it (the solar panels) out and start farming again.”
His family milked 300 cows until 2014, when he calculated that the operation would not be profitable for much longer. He sold his dairy cows and now raises 30 beef cows, while leasing the rest of his land to other farmers.
The Town Board may draft legislation that would allow, but regulate, ground-mounted commercial solar arrays. The legislation could limit where the solar arrays could be built.
As a first step, the board held a public hearing on whether to have a moratorium on the arrays for six months, to allow time to write the regulations. The arrays aren’t allowed at all now, so a developer would have to go through a complex Zoning Board process to get permission. The Town Board is expected to vote on the moratorium at its July 9 meeting; comments will be accepted in writing until then.
Some said Tuesday that they don’t want farmland forever ruined by solar arrays that might be obsolete in 20 years.
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“These aren’t farms. These are energy-generating facilities,” said Planning Board member John Arnold. “It can have impacts on viewshed, on available farmland. These are not temporary structures by any means.”
Farmer Anne Kusnierz said the Town Board should prioritize preserving farmland.
“I’m trying to protect the agricultural district, that precious land,” she said. “Because there will never be any more made.”
Another farmer said that the board should trust farmers to make the best choices for their land.
But other farmers said they would choose financial security over land preservation.
Jim Zubb, who has a solar array in Schaghticoke, said he willingly gave up 12.5 acres and will soon expand solar to 25 acres even though he wishes he could farm that land.
“But it gives me the opportunity to have a retirement fund in the next 10 years, and that’s what’s important,” he said.
Killian said solar can also support the farm, especially when milk prices drop.
“It would offset those margins,” he said.
Town Supervisor Todd Kusnierz, who is also a farmer, did not indicate which way he was leaning after the public hearing. He thanked all the speakers.
“This will help us immensely in making sure we do the right thing,” he said.
The language in the proposed six-month moratorium includes an exception in which the Town Board could allow a particular project if the developer appealed directly to the board. That’s standard in moratoriums, but boards almost never use that power, instead choosing to wait until all regulations are developed and approved.