The town board has moved to terminate a land preservation incentive agreement with one of Clifton Park's remaining farms that will be the site of a solar farm array on the property.
The preservation incentive agreement, which covered agriculturally-zoned land owned by Duane Lindsey, was established by the town in 2016.
Lindsey owns two of the four plots of land in town that will be home to solar farms — the previous orchard land of Lindsey’s Idyllwood Orchard will host a 6.9 megawatt array and there will be a 9.2-megawatt array on farmland at 753 Grooms Road.
The other sites are a 5.3-megawatt solar array by Borrego Solar at 25 Ashdown Road and a 7-megawatt array on Sugar Hill Road by Solitude Solar.
After decades of operations as an iconic orchard widely known by generations of area families, Lindsey made the decision to cease operations last October.
The decision to close the orchard was based on a major drop in revenue over the past year, high overhead costs and the fact that customers simply weren’t coming to pick apples there anymore, Lindsey has said in the past.
The board unanimously approved two resolutions related to the Lindsey solar farm — one that allows the town to enter into a PILOT agreement with Borrego Solar, the company that will build the solar arrays, on the property, and one that releases the farm from the land conservation agreement.
As per the PILOT agreement, Borrego Solar will start paying the town $30,000 and $12,000 annually for the two Lindsey properties for 15 years, with a 2 percent increase in payments each year.
The decision terminating the conservation incentive agreement calls for repayment to the town of $20,100, which makes up the $6,700 in annual incentive payments that have been given to the farm over the last three years.
In order to receive incentive payments, farmers must continue to farm their land, as opposed to selling or developing it for other non-agricultural uses.
Neither resolution was met with any comments or questions from board members, but Clifton Park Town Supervisor Phil Barrett noted the town has successfully preserved a large amount of open land — approximately 1,700 acres of property over the last 20 years through the town’s Open Space Program.
“The town works very hard to work with large landowners on incentive programs for them no to develop their properties,” he said. “We work on a variety of fronts to help our farmers and protect property forever, permanently in the town of Clifton Park so you can enjoy it on a recreational basis.”
However, he said, its difficult to compete with the what Barrett called “unending” cash incentives offered by solar companies that are backed by state-funded green energy initiatives.
“And then you have farms that are struggling to survive,” Barrett said.
“They consider, 'Do I continue farming? Or do I lease my land for a solar farm?'" Barrett continued. "And the amount of money that they’re making as a farmer, if they’re even making a profit, and the amount of work that it takes to operate a farm, when you start to compare that to ‘If I lease my land for a solar farm, I’ll have a guaranteed source of revenue,’ more and more farms are choosing to go the green energy route.”
Barrett acknowledged that the deals with solar companies do provide farmers with a way to retain ownership of their land. But that comes at the loss of preservable land for the town, he said. More and more farms, he predicated, will probably be making similar agreements with solar companies in the future.
“So from that standpoint it is positive. These folks will be able to maintain ownership of their property. But overall we’d rather see farms continue to farm. In my mind, that’s a better use of the property,” Barrett said.
Lindsey was not present at Monday night's meeting but has said in the past that the high costs of housing and paying employees, along with dwindling numbers of customers over the years was responsible for the demise of the orchard. The solar farm allows him to keep his land in the family, as he has no plans to sell it to developers, he said.
Barrett said that he hopes to keep the incentive agreements that the town has entered into with other farms in place.