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Moreau Planning Board wants farmland protected from solar panels

Moreau Planning Board wants farmland protected from solar panels

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Solar array

Solar panels stand on land that is part of Barber Bros. Dairy Farm on Route 32 in Schuylerville. In Moreau, the Town Board is considering how to regulate solar farms on agricultural land.

MOREAU — The Moreau Planning Board got its first look at the draft solar law Monday, and it didn’t love it.

The draft law, which is supported by some but not all of the Town Board members, would allow hundreds of solar panels to be erected on farmland, with some limitations.

Those limitations include banning solar panels on prime farmland, which some Town Board members say is too restrictive.

Planning Board members said every acre of farmland is valuable, prime soils or not, and that the comprehensive plan should be amended to emphasize farmland protection.

At a Zoom meeting Monday, they discussed what rules they would want to have in place when they get their first application for an array of solar panels.

The arrays are usually more than 200 panels, ground-mounted and intended to be removed in about 40 years, they were told.

“That’s a lot of panels,” one board member said.

The panels are considered “temporary,” but Zoning Administrator Jim Martin warned them to look at them as quasi-permanent structures.

“Forty years — in as much as it may not be a permanent use, it is not what I think of as a temporary use either,” he said.

And temporary doesn’t mean that the land would return to farmland afterward. Board members said they don’t expect that to happen, generally, when they approve a non-farm use on farmland.

As they studied the rules for setbacks and visibility to passersby, designed to protect the viewscape, they asked whether they could deny an application that met the rules but was clearly in a “horrible” place anyway.

Town Attorney Karla Buettner told them the rules are the rules.

“If it meets the requirements, it should go forward,” she said.

That led to board members looking more closely at the rules, in an effort to limit the impact on farmland.

Buettner’s job now is to bring the board’s comments to the Town Board and somehow merge the two boards’ views into a final draft. Given that the boards have opposing views on the issue, this could be a challenge.

The next step will be a public hearing. No plans have been finalized yet on how to hold that hearing, which may be in person in some way, or may be on Zoom.

You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or kmoore@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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Related to this story

A solar developer from Boston wants to buy three parcels in the Moreau Industrial Park to set up 13 acres of solar panels. If Baker Falls Solar LLC gets approval for the array, it will become the second business in the nearly-empty park.

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