Fulton County dairy farm hopes solar will save its lands; public has mixed reaction to 40-megawatt project
By Gwendolyn Craig
Nearly 100 people attended an open house Wednesday night about a proposed 40-megawatt solar array in the town of Mayfield in Fulton County. If built, it will become the largest solar project in the Adirondack Park to date. The facility plans are an example, too, of some of the park’s remaining dairy farmers looking for a new cash crop to make ends meet.
Solar developer Boralex Inc. is looking to place 200 acres of panels on the Close brothers’ family dairy farm. Fifth-generation farmer Jon Close, 64, said the family owns about 800 acres total, including a bucolic hillside on Great Sacandaga Lake that he will leave undeveloped so as not to ruin the view.
It has been a struggle to keep the farm, Close said, between the stagnant price of milk and trouble finding employees.
“This opportunity came along, so we’re going to take advantage of it,” Close said. “The money that we’ll receive for the panels will keep things going and down the road, it’s our hope that it will be returned to farming, whereas if it goes into homes, golf courses, condos or whatever, it will be gone forever.”
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The solar farm is more than double the size of the largest project approved in the Adirondack Park so far. Gov. Kathy Hochul first announced the facility in June, part of a round-up of 22 large-scale renewable energy projects.
Because of its size, the arrays will be reviewed by the state Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES), an agency established in 2020 “to consolidate the environmental review and permitting of major renewable energy facilities in New York State in a single forum.” The Adirondack Park Agency, the state organization charged with overseeing public and private development in the approximately 6-million-acre park, will be able to provide input through the ORES process, but will not be reviewing a permit for the project, said APA spokesman Keith McKeever.
Darren Suarez, vice president of public affairs and communications for Boralex, said the company wasn’t looking to host a project inside the Blue Line because the permitting process is so new.
“We were really hesitant about going forward initially,” Suarez said. The company saw value in working with Close, however, and it is hoping all voices will be heard throughout the permitting process.
Suarez and others from Boralex had a chance to hear from some of the public on Wednesday, and not all are happy with the plans or how the permitting process is unfolding. One attendee worried the project was already a done deal.
Suarez said the project is still in the early stages of development and the open house was intended to allow representatives to have conversations with the public.
Zachary Hutchins, a spokesperson for Boralex, later told the Explorer Boralex has found the open house format to be better for allowing more people to attend. There are no plans at this time to hold a public meeting in a speaker presentation format.
Kathy Baker, who lives directly across from the Close Farm, was trembling as she spoke with a reporter about an eyesore becoming her new view. When asked if she would support the project if she knew the panels were not going to be on the hillside near the lake, Baker said she was still worried about groundwater pollution. She was especially worried about how the solar array may be decommissioned, and if panels would be left on the farm to deteriorate.
“It’s part of the Adirondack Park where they don’t allow cell towers, but yet they’re going to allow these,” Baker said. “It doesn’t make any sense.” (The APA has a tower policy that includes restrictions on where cell towers can go.)
Hutchins said the panels are solid, and there are no concerns about liquid contaminating the groundwater. A spokesperson for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority said while there are ongoing studies, no data at this time demonstrates that panels have any impact on water quality.
There will also be a decommissioning plan in place, along with a bond, so there is insurance that the site will be cleaned up once it has fulfilled its use. Hutchins said decommissioning plans would transfer with any new owners, should something happen to the company, too.
Boralex representatives and Close continued to stress that despite not knowing exactly where the panels will be placed yet, there will be none visible from Great Sacandaga Lake. Close said some woodland will have to be cut, however.
Boralex plans to submit its application to ORES sometime this year, with hopes of a determination by mid-2024 and construction into 2025. Should the project come online in 2025, it would help the state with one of its first climate benchmarks of reaching 6,000 megawatts of distributed solar by that year. The state needs to reach 10,000 megawatts of distributed solar by 2030.
A few town board members were at the open house on Wednesday night, but declined to tell the Explorer their thoughts on the project.
Support for the project
Many Close family members and friends came out to support Jon Close. Doug Bradt, who lives in Mayfield and is the partner of one of Jon Close’s cousins, said he thought the solar facility was important to reducing the nation’s reliance on oil.
“It’s going to be clean energy,” Bradt said. “If it wasn’t for the solar fields, we would be having a housing development back there.”
Richard Travis, who lives in Mayfield, said there’s not much other recourse for his friend Jon Close, and he’s glad the land won’t be commercially developed.
“He’s trying to save his farm,” Travis said. “We all have to survive one way or another.”
Other projects, concerns
Boralex has several other solar farms it is proposing just outside the Adirondack Park, including a 100-megawatt project in Washington County. The solar array in Fort Edward is of particular concern to the National Audubon Society and local organization the Grassland Bird Trust because it is proposed in an Important Bird Area. Those “are distinct areas that provide essential habitat to one or more species of birds in breeding, wintering, or migration,” according to Audubon. The grasslands are also habitats for the state-endangered short-eared owl and the state-threatened northern harrier hawk.
Katherine Roome, a board member of the Grassland Bird Trust, attended the Mayfield meeting. She was expecting to see more information about birds and wetlands for the Close Farm site, but Boralex did not have any posters regarding those items.
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Mike Burger, executive director of Audubon Connecticut and New York and vice president of the National Audubon Society, said his organization is monitoring solar projects across the state and is in support of renewable energy initiatives. In a phone interview on Thursday, he said Audubon would like to see the Washington County grasslands proposal be modified. Burger believes nesting grassland birds will leave the area if solar panels are placed there.
Melissa Mansfield, a Boralex spokeswoman, said the company is still working on the design of the Fort Edward project to minimize impacts to birds.
At the Mayfield site, Close and Boralex representatives said they are conducting bird, wetland and other studies on the property and plan to share them with APA staff once they are completed. Close also hopes to raise bees, graze sheep and plant pollinator gardens among the panels to expand what his farm currently has to offer.
“We’re not getting out of farming,” Close said. “Yes, there’s going to be panels, but that’s allowing us to keep going. It’s just a never-ending battle.”
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LeRoy Hogan says
I do believe Jon Close has earned his right to his pursuit of happiness and not have mob rule dictate his life.
Rich Paolillo says
Solar is not difficult to decommission compared to industrial wind farms. Solar has the benefit in that in 10, 20 or 30+ years time more advanced panels could be installed on the existing frame work.
Pat Smith says
We are dealing with Boralex in our town as well. They give us the same cookie cutter presentation. The state created ORES and 94c to try to stop residents from pushing back against these industrial size facilities. Setbacks allow sites to be built 250 feet from a home, 100 feet from a property line and 50 feet from the center line of roadways. Decommissioning is a joke with the town left holding a bond that will most likely not cover the cost. It will also allow any equipment below 3 feet underground to be left behind. They boast about new jobs. We will have 2 maintenance people employed once construction is done. Towns think they will receive some huge financial benefit. We have been told 4 million over 30 years. That’s $133,333 a year divided between the county, the local school district then the town. Our towns share will be about $9500.00 annually. All this on top of the fact that these facilities are incredibly ineffective. At 40 megawatts name plate rated this facility will actually generate around 5 megawatts. While I understand why a farmer struggling in this economy would dedicate some land to solar to help his bottom line the wholesale destruction of farmland and habitat is just beginning. It will take roughly 50-55 acres to generate 1 megawatt in NY. If we need 20000 megawatts statewide that means a approximately million acres of solar panels. I urge people to push back against ORES and any local officials who say nothing can be done.
Well said, thank you!
LeRoy Hogan says
I don’t understand towns thinking they would benefit when the solar farm will be on Jon Close’s land.
I wonder how big does a solar farm have to be to become industrialized and will this proposed solar farm be that size?
What is the bond amount going to be compared to future decomminishing costs? Wondering why thinking the bond is a joke.
Pat Smith says
A PILOT(payment in lieu of taxes) agreement is made between the developer and the local tax districts. If there is a county IDA they will arrange the PILOT with the developer.
I guess industrial size is in the eye of the beholder. When a project cross the threshold of 20 megawatts name plate rated it then falls under 94c and is reviewed by the state through ORES. This is when local municipalities are left out of the siting process. In my opinion, I believe most new projects will be 20 megs plus in order to try to bypass objections from local residents.
94c section 900-6.6 reads in part the bond “shall be the net decommissioning and site restoration estimate plus a 15% contingency (which would mean one half percent yearly over the 30 life of the project in our town) LESS the total projected salvage value of facility components. How can you estimate the salvage value of something looking 30 years into the future? Once the cost of decommissioning is established by ORES the bond is written with the towns name on it. This is why the towns could be stuck with huge costs. I would prefer to see the state on the bond.
LeRoy Hogan says
Thanks for info.
If you listen closely you will see this for what it is. I have stated before I am 100 percent for solar just not on our food producing or forest producing land. And this is just that. Put the solar panels on our Mall roofs, over our parking lots, on our homes and barn roofs and down the medians or our highways where the infrastructure already exist.
You realize where ever these panels go there has to be power lines run and transformers and poles and many other unsightly structures put in place to get the power to its final destination?
Covering this kind of land with black glass can only lead to more destruction of our planet and the land. The grass, the fields, the forests are the lands that will clean our planet from the pollution we as humans make on a massive scale. If anything we need more grass and forest exposed to sunlight in order to filter out our pollutants.
I am a farmer and I get how hard it is to make a living doing that.I have also been approached and am in the process of keeping the solar corporations out of my fields. We have other ways to help us farm and that would be to get the bureaucrats and the middle men out of our way and let us sell direct to the public and let supply and demand take hold again. In this way Jon Close and many other farmers wont have to rely on unstainable projects that harm instead of help our world. He and I can just farm and support our families.
Dairy farmers are the hardest working people in the USA. Pay them for the real cost of producing their milk and we wont have to have this conversation.
Pat Smith says
Thank you Joe. I agree with you 100%. Senator Hinchey introduced bill S7122 which prohibits solar build-ready-sites on farmland. The bill went to the governor in November 2022, which she promptly vetoed. A new version of the bill has been reintroduced by Senator Hinchey numbered S1416. I urge everyone to contact their local representatives, Senator Hinchey and the governor to support passage of this bill.
i feel sorry for clos, the middle men steal all the money from Milk and though its close to $4 a gallon, a farmer gets maybe $0.05 to 0.08 per gallon. Pure theft.
I hope the solar is raised up so at least it can graze cows.
Why put solar panels over farm land and forest, reducing the sunlight and hence reducing the plants photosynthesis and carbon sequestering. But the solar over huge parking lots, it’s dead land, shades cars and can even recharge electric cars right there, build on roofs, over roadways. stop destroying farmland needed for the ever growing population, and the mu needed absorbtion of CO2. we talk about reforesting to save the planet, yet we keep destroying good land. Build where it’s smarter, maybe a higher initial cost, but cheaper than making more land!
Gomer Pyle says
Hinchey’s bill says:
“Agriculture, and by extension, farmland, is an essential part of our
economy and our culture in New York State. Unfortunately, many of our
farms and much of our viable agricultural land, including small and
mid-size family farms, is at risk to development. Legislation such as
this helps to ensure that our world class farmland is preserved, and
local sources of nutritious food are protected, for future generations.
You claim to want to help the farmers and protect agriculture, but legislation like this backs farmers further into a corner and makes the situation much worse.
Your idea to further restrict the freedom of farmers to do with their land what they see fit is not a viable solution. It will IN FACT, only lead to the quicker demise of the small and mid size family farms you seek to protect.
You must first examine the root cause of the problem to determine a viable solution.
Instead of further restricting the freedoms of farmers and backing them further and tighter into a corner, why don’t you solve the major issue at hand and fight to make the economics of farming are AFFORDDABLE.
If farmers could at least get by financially–we would the having ANY of these problems. This is strictly a matter of having no money because the AG markets don’t pay enough to cover input costs, bills and taxes. FIX THAT PROBLEM FIRST UNLESS YOU WANT TO STARVE.