Solar farm

A look at a solar panel.

CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — A local farm has returned $20,000 in state farmland grant funding as it moves to develop part of its land as a solar farm.

The Town Board, Monday, authorized Supervisor Philip Barrett to execute a release to signify the termination of an incentive agreement between the state Agriculture and Markets Farmland Implementation Program, the town, and the Lindsey Farm, 752 Grooms Road.

The release ends a 15-year farmland grant awarded to the farm in 2015 for $6,000 annually. The grant is available throughout the state to help farms survive. The state provides 80 percent of the funding while the municipality, in this case, Clifton Park, funds the remaining 20 percent.

The grant is being terminated with agreement from all parties as the Lindsey Farm moves to develop a 33-acre section in the middle of the site as a 9.2 Megawatt solar farm. With the development of the commercial solar farm, the land is no longer viewed as being strictly a farm.

In 2014, the town applied to the state to get access to the Agriculture and Markets’ Farmland Incentive Protection Program funding. The owners of the Lindsey Farm applied the following year to be part of the grant program. Had the farm stayed in the program for the full 15 years of the grant it would have received $94,000 with $70,826 coming from the Agriculture and Markets’ program and $23,174 coming from the town.

“This particular program is to support active working farms,” said Town Attorney Tom McCarthy. “Once they applied for a commercial-grade solar project on the land that would disqualify the land from participating in the farm protection program; so they had to make a choice.”

McCarthy noted that Barrett has always been proactive about being willing to participate in such programs whether they were for trails, roads or farm projects.

As he discussed the termination of the grant at Monday’s meeting, Barrett looked at the larger picture of municipalities’ efforts to help retain their local farms when confronted with the state’s own financial incentives for increasing solar development.

The town, he said, works hard with large landowners through incentive programs such as its open space program, conservation easements, and by acquiring state grants, to help them refrain from developing their properties.

“In this case, the state has programs where tens of millions of dollars of your money is being used to subsidize green energy projects such as solar projects and solar farms,” he said. “So you have seemingly unending money flowing from the state and NYSERDA programs to subsidize these solar projects and you have farms struggling to survive. As it goes on you’re going to see more and more that farms across the state will begin looking at whether to continue farming or lease the land for a solar farm.”

Barrett said he believes the amount of money to be offered to farmers who are already struggling will be hard to refuse and with that, many farms may cease being agricultural entities.

“That’s the reality we’re living in,” he said. “Capital goes where it’s treated best. When it comes to green energy projects the state is wide open for business.”

In other Town Board action with the Lindsey Farm, the board authorized Barrett to execute two PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreements in the amount of $30,000 and $12,000 with two percent annual increases, for a 15-year term on the farm’s solar project.

Saratoga County is believed to have passed its own terms for PILOT agreements with solar projects. The county’s terms require solar companies or solar providers to pay the county $1,000 per one Megawatt hour annually on any project in the county.

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