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EDITORIAL: Help Moreau's farmers survive with solar

EDITORIAL: Help Moreau's farmers survive with solar

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Moreau farmer

Boralex, a Canadian clean-energy developer, is seeking to construct a 20-megawatt solar farm on 80 acres of Patrick Killian's family farm in Moreau. Killian, who is struggling to hold onto the 500-acre property, believes a lease agreement with the company will give him the resources needed to pass the farm on to his children. 

Moreau officials have put a lot of work into a law to expand the areas where solar panels can be sited, so it’s too bad the law excludes some of the town’s most suitable sites.

The law excludes large solar farms from “prime farmland.” The irony is, farmers can sell this same land to developers, who can build private homes on it, losing it to farming forever.

Land is valuable right now, while farmers are struggling to survive. What is needed is a way that farmers can earn extra money off their land, allowing them to keep their farms going. Solar is that way.

The choice is not between solar and farming; it is between solar and housing development. It would be a shame if town officials, in putting together a law to expand opportunities for solar development, excluded some of the best sites out of a misguided belief they were helping farmers.

This law would leave those farmers who are struggling financially with little choice but to sell their land to developers.

We’re not talking about large arrays of solar panels along local roads. To be financially viable, the solar farms have to be located near a power transmission line, and only a handful of farms have sites that qualify. The land should be flat, too, and not covered in trees. “Prime” farmland is also “prime” solar farm land.

But putting solar panels on land does not preclude its use for farming. You may not be able to grow corn under and around solar panels, but you can grow other crops and graze sheep or goats. The U.S. Department of Energy has a website devoted to the benefits of co-locating solar panels and crops.

Farmers can make a little money by leasing acreage to other farmers but not enough money to save their farms.

Solar is not forever. The useful life of the panels is somewhere around 25 years. At that point, they could be replaced or removed.

If houses are built on the town’s prime farmland, they will likely still be there 100 years from now, and it is unlikely that land will ever again be used for farming.

This law could decide the future direction of the town. If Moreau makes it impossible for farmers to earn a living off their land, chances are good they will sell out and their land will be lost to suburban sprawl. But if Moreau allows them to keep their farms viable through deals with solar power producers, the town’s rural character will be preserved.

Local editorials are written by the Post-Star editorial board, which includes Ben Rogers, president and director of local sales and marketing; Brian Corcoran, regional finance director and former publisher; Will Doolittle, projects editor; and Bob Condon, local news editor.

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