New Tool Will Help Protect Farmland And Bring Reason To Solar Project Siting

A new tool created by the county Farmland Protection Board could help assuage concerns about good farmland being used for solar and wind energy projects.

Jim Joy, a member of the board and a grape farmer in the north county, worked with Lauren Sharpe, a junior planner with the Department of Planning & Development, to create an assessment form and scoring system that will bring consistency to determinations of whether or not farmland is needed for agricultural purposes.

Joy said the board did not want to see land that could be considered prime farmland to be changed over to solar when it could still be put to good use for other farm work. The scoring system included as a part of the form will help to determine that.

“The scoring system will allow us to score the land and if a farm scores poorly, then we would say it can make use of it in other ways, like solar,” Joy said. “It will allow us to make good decisions, and let us prove why we did what we did with it.”

The form has been given to area municipalities for their use, and was used to help in the decision to site a solar project in Kiantone because the land scored poorly for continued use as farmland.

Perhaps the best thing about the creation of the scoring system is that farmers had a hand in its creation. It’s one thing for those who don’t know about agriculture — like a state siting board — to decide land has no agricultural use. It’s quite another when people who are intimately aware of agriculture’s importance to Chautauqua County and the balance family farms have to place on both agriculture and the added revenue of a solar or wind farm lease to a farm’s yearly budget have a say in those decisions.

Kudos to Joy, Sharpe and the rest of the Farmland Protection Board for their work on the assessment form. It should be an example to follow for other rural counties like ours throughout the state.


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