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Committee Discusses Options Regarding Solar Projects

With the plethora of solar projects being proposed locally, Chautauqua County officials are looking at ways to help local municipalities protect themselves when evaluating projects.

Last month, the county Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board sent a letter to the legislature expressing its concerns of renewable energy projects on agricultural lands. Specifically, the board wants to make sure that productive soils and priority farmland stay in production, that soils are restored to their original productivity after the lifespan of these projects, and they wanted to ensure developers and operators are held responsible for the financial and physical removal of projects after their lifespan.

The legislature’s Planning and Economic Development Committee last week continued discussion on the topic.

At the beginning of the meeting, Karen Engstrom, resident of the town of Chautauqua, spoke during the public portion. She noted that state Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, has introduced legislation requiring developers of industrial solar and wind farms to provide a reclamation bond to ensure the proper decommissioning, reclamation, or recycling of wind turbines and solar panels once they have reached the end of their useful life.

Engstrom also noted that the Niagara County Legislature has passed similar legislation. “I’d urge you to consider emulating their very adequate law and doing that,” she said. “Recycling those units is clear. We do not protect the environment at all by just throwing valuable resources such as what are in solar panels. We can’t accept that as a possibility.”

Engstrom said she is concerned that Borrello’s bill may not be approved, so she is asking Chautauqua County leaders to pass such legislation.

Later in the meeting, Mark Geise, chief executive officer of the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency and deputy county executive for economic development, said his office is ready to help local municipalities.

“We are prepared and committed to really doing a sweep of some of the best practices across the state and elsewhere and provide a template to municipalities that they can refer to in their local land use law amendments to help them and protect them against predatory practices,” he said.

Rebecca Wurster, special projects coordinator with the Department of Planning and Development, said they’re working on a map that will show where the transmission lines are for solar projects to join, as well as where the agricultural districts sit. “It just helps them in better planning with the project and the land,” she said.

Geise added that the county can’t require local municipalities to set up decommissioning bonds, but they’re offering the information to help them make good choices. Committee Chairwoman Christine Starks, D-Fredonia, thanked Geise and others for what they are doing. “I think the template and putting information out to all the municipalities is a fabulous step forward,” she said.

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