Solar Energy Issues Page

This page contains links to the articles on issues related to solar energy deployment from the web and, at the bottom, relevant summaries of articles from Pragmatic Environmentalist of NY.

Reasonable Solar Development Policy

Chris Denton from New York’s Southern Tier wrote a great article describing a reasonable development policy for industrial solar.  He points out that it is reasonable to have a policy framework in place before we “advance the production of electric energy by means of industrial free-standing solar collectors”.  He argues that developing industrial solar facilities diverts land from an existing use (e.g., habitat or agriculture) it follows that “how much and where we divert the sun’s rays ought be very carefully measured and studied before allowing any further industrial development of solar electric generation.”  He points out that there are plenty of locations that do not impact agriculture and sequestration so those should a priority.  He concludes:

The damage caused by our refusal to recognize these impacts can destroy our environment as effectively as any other unexamined industrial or commercial project. It is that very blindness to incremental, unplanned action that has led to the very global warming which we are now trying to unwind.  We should not make the same mistake in the cure as we did in acquiring the disease. We need to take care that in our zeal to protect our environment from unrestricted global warming, we don’t destroy the very plants, animals, land, water, and scenic values which we are trying to protect.

Waste

The problem of solar panel waste is now becoming evident. As environmental journalist Emily Folk admits in Renewable Energy Magazine, “when talking about renewable energy, the topic of waste does not often appear.” She attributes this to the supposed “pressures of climate change” and alleged “urgency to find alternative energy sources,” saying people may thus be hesitant to discuss “possible negative impacts of renewable energy.”

Net Zero solar farm stampede threatens Britain’s food supply.

“There is no good argument for sacrificing thousands of acres of food producing land to low quality and expensive solar electricity production. This is not in the national interest, and it is not wise climate policy.”
John Constable: The case for reform of solar energy planning guidance (pdf)

Solar farms: A toxic blot on the landscape

Some 1,000 acres of rural land a month are earmarked for ‘photovoltaic’ panels and the miles of cabling that go with them. The Government admits that more than a fifth of our farmland will eventually be lost to ‘green’ initiatives such as these. The materials the panels are made with have a life expectancy of less than 50 years and are difficult and expensive to recycle, raising the prospect of discarded panel mountains leaking dangerous heavy metals. Full story

Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York Articles

New York Siting Board Denies a Solar Project Application August 13, 2022

On August 9, 2022 the New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment (Siting Board) denied approval to North Side Energy Center, LLC (North Side) to build and operate a 180-megawatt solar farm in St. Lawrence County. 

While it is encouraging that the State did deny the application for a renewable project it is important to note that the application was incredibly arrogant.  The idea that a project that a project that impacted 500 acres of wetlands (over a third of the disturbed area in the project!) would be approved should have been rejected out of hand by the developer.  That NextEra thought they could get away with it speaks volumes about the impression that outside of the state developers have about New York solar siting.

Unfortunately, there is no sign that ORES is concerned about the effect of massive utility-scale solar development on New York’s agricultural industry in general and on the loss of prime farmland in particular.  Until such time that utility-scale solar is required to meet the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets guidelines for responsible solar siting irresponsible solar developers like NextEra will continue to destroy prime farmland.

Solar Subsidies in New York July 31, 2022

In response to a reader question about solar subsidies I prepared this article.

I concluded that there is no question that there are massive subsidies for wind and solar development that will affect the energy costs of all New Yorkers.  SolRiver Capital is “interested in New York because of its strong state programs and incentives for solar, including remote net energy metering and the NY Megawatt (MW) Block program. In addition, the state has a high volume of direct PPA’s and utility PPA’s with high-quality offtakers.”  The article describes those direct subsidies and other indirect subsidies for renewable energy development.

Given all these subsidies it is obvious why a solar developer can out-bid a farmer to rent prime farmland.  Until there is a state policy that codifies the Department of Ag and Markets prime farmland protection guidance for solar development, out-of-state developers will come in and plop down solar farms wherever they can outbid farmers for land that is easiest and cheapest for them to build. 

Hecate Energy Cider Solar Permit Approval July 27, 2022

The New York Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) approved Hecate Energy’s permit for the 500-megawatt (MW) Cider Solar Farm on July 25, 2022.  The Cider Solar Farm will be a 500-megawatt photovoltaic solar facility capable of supplying 920,000 MWh (21% capacity factor).  It will use photovoltaic panels on tracking structures that follow the sun throughout the day to optimize power production.  In my opinion the approval of this application removes any doubt that State policy is renewable energy is the priority over agriculture. 

I pointed out some problems with the application in this article.  ORES over-ruled local zoning ordinances that were “unreasonably burdensome” for the developer.  In the discussion of the lands within certified NYS agricultural districts the text states: “The Project Area includes a total of approximately 7,845 acres, while the Project Site includes approximately 4,650 acres, and the Project Footprint is comprised of approximately 2,452 acres.”  The Department of Ag and Markets goal is for solar projects “to limit the conversion of agricultural areas within the Project Areas, to no more than 10% of soils classified by the Department’s NYS Agricultural Land Classification mineral soil groups 1-4, generally Prime Farmland soils, which represent the State’s most productive farmland.”  The text does not present their numbers so that an easy comparison can be made.  The 4,650 acre Project Site is 41% Prime Farmland (1,912 acres) and another 27% (1,252 acres) would be Prime Farmland if drained.  The Ag and Markets goal is for the Project Area but no soil classification data are presented for that category.  The text admits that the solar panels and maintained areas of this project “will cover approximately 2,178.9 acres total and 2,159 acres of active agricultural land”.  There is no question however you assign the numbers that this represents massive conversion of prime farmland.

New York 10GW Solar Roadmap’s Disconnect from Reality March 20, 2022

New York’s  New York’s 10 GW Distributed Solar Roadmap: Policy Options for Continued Growth in Distributed Solar report includes a policy approach for responsible distributed solar siting.  I have no argument with their approach or their results.  However, there is a disconnect because the majority of these distributed solar projects are “expected to be ground-mounted arrays ranging between 5 MW and 7.5 MW in size, which occupy approximately 20 – 25 acres of land”.  On the other hand, utility-scale solar projects can be on the order of 200 MW and cover over 1,000 acres but there are no similar requirements for responsible solar siting.  Given the massive amount of projected utility-scale solar generation capacity required to meet Climate Act goals this could easily lead to the permanent loss of significant amounts of prime farmland that will hurt farming communities and endanger Climate Act strategies to sequester carbon in soil.  Given the magnitude of the potential impacts to prime farmland I submitted a comment to the Climate Action Council recommending that they impose a moratorium on the development of utility-scale solar projects until permitting requirements have been established for responsible solar siting and protection of prime farmlands.   

Status of Garnet Energy Center Application March 18, 2022

This post highlights the prepared testimony by Michael Saviola from the Department of Agriculture and Markets on this project.  I concluded that the Garnet Energy Center permit decision will be a litmus test to see if the State is going to protect farming communities.  I believe that his testimony clearly demonstrates that the proposed project is inappropriate because “the facility will result in or contribute to a significant and adverse disproportionate agricultural impact upon the local farming community”.  Ag and Markets testimony for the Trelina project was similarly negative but that got approved.  At a minimum the project approval should be delayed until guidelines for responsible utility-scale solar development are available and I submitted comments on March 17 to the docket to that effect. 

In addition, I argued that responsible siting guidelines based on the American Farmland Trust report, the state’s policies for distributed solar and the Agricultural Technical Working Group analyses will eventually be used to form the basis of a state-wide policy for utility-scale solar development.  In the meantime, it is inappropriate to allow projects like the Garnet project to proceed.  I believe that if the Siting Board ignores the Ag and Markets testimony and the clear need to wait for guidelines, then it will be clear that the State is not going to protect farming communities whatever they claim.

New Yorkers for Clean Energy:  What’s the Deal with Renewable Energy & Agriculture? December 16, 2021: 

This post described a Workshop “What’s the Deal with Renewable Energy & Agriculture?” co-hosted by New Yorkers for Clean Power (NYCP) and Alliance for Clean Energy NY (ACENY) discuss the compatibility of solar energy development and agriculture in New York State.  In my opinion, all the speakers were advocating responsible solar development that minimizes the use of the best agricultural farmland soils.  Whatever your position is with respect to the industrial solar development that to me is a key requirement.  If a project meets all the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (Ag and Markets) guidelines and the ORES requirements then, given the current state law mandating massive buildouts of solar energy, the application should be approved.

CLCPA Implications of the Trelina Solar Project Approval December 2, 2021

This post described the announcement that the New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment (Siting Board) granted approval to build and operate the Trelina Solar Project, an 80 megawatt (MW) solar farm in the Town of Waterloo, Seneca County.  The overall Project Area is 1,067 acres and “only approximately 44.4 percent will be used for Project Components within a fenced area of approximately 418 acres to generate 79.5 to 80 MW of renewable energy”. 

Note, however, that New York Department of Agriculture and Markets testimony notes that “The Department’s goal is for projects to limit the conversion of agricultural areas within the Project Areas, to no more than 10% of soils classified by the Department’s NYS Agricultural Land Classification mineral soil groups 1-4, generally Prime Farmland soils, which represent the State’s most productive farmland.”  It also notes that “The Department estimates that greater than 68% of the of the limits of disturbance includes the conversion of farmland classified as Prime Farmland Soil”. 

The application argues that the project only disturbs 4.9% of all the prime farmland in the Town of Waterloo and presumably would argue that means they meet the intent of the Department policy.  The problem with that is there is no master plan for development and no assurances that other more responsibly sited facilities could not be constructed in the Town of Waterloo that would raise the town total over the 10% goal of the Department.

The Ag and Markets testimony also argues against the claims that only 10.05 acres will be permanently disturbed.  The testimony explains that 474.1 acres will be permanently disturbed because “as long as NYS incentives for the development of renewable energy exists, the complete decommissioning of solar electric energy generation, and full resumption to agricultural use is not likely to occur”.

It was a revelation that the Ag and Markets testimony provided explicit arguments to try to preserve prime farmland.  Despite their compelling arguments the project was approved as proposed. Unfortunately, the Article 10 permitting process is politically driven and the politicians behind the Climate Act are only concerned with the Climate Act agenda and disregarded the testimony.

Even More Industrial Solar issues  November 22, 2021

Solar developers have argued that their projects support the agricultural economy overall but upon close examination there are issues with their rationale.  This post examined the claims made by NextEra Energy Resources  for the Garnet Energy Center, a proposed 200-megawatt solar project with 20 megawatts of energy storage located in the town of Conquest in Cayuga County, N.Y.  According to the July 2021 Proposed Array Layout the project area is 2,288 acres and the facility area (area within in project fence line) is 1,054 acres.  According to the project benefits website: “The Garnet Energy Center will create new jobs, generate long-term revenue and deliver economic development to Cayuga County and the town of Conquest.” 

I concluded that I can certainly understand why a farmer would prefer to rent their land for a guaranteed income free of the many risks and intensely hard labor needed to survive.  However, it is incumbent upon the state to understand that while the farmers who rent their land make out well that there are downsides to solar development on the community and neighbors.  The characterization by Garnet Solar that the project will support the agricultural economy overall is simply wrong.  It will reduce farm jobs and the economic activity may be improved during construction but once the facility is operational there are very few economic benefits to essential local businesses.

Yet Another Industrial Solar Issue October 23, 2021

One of the unintended consequences of extensive solar development is that it affects the viability of farmers that have to rent land for their operations.  An agronomist and environmental planner in western New York explained that the problem is that farmers are now competing with solar developers who are paid direct and indirect subsidies that enable them to offer land owners up to ten times the current agricultural annual lease rates.   This raises the concern that farmers will not have enough available farmland to support the investment they have made in facilities, livestock, or equipment.  

Max Zhang, professor at Cornell recently published “Strategic Land Use Analysis for Solar Energy Development in New York State“.  “Solar farms are already taking up agricultural land and it will likely take even more to achieve New York’s energy goals,” Zhang said. “For the solar-energy community, this is not a surprise. But for the agricultural community, this is a surprise.”  In the Draft Scoping Plan Scenario 2, “strategic use of fossil fuels”, projects that 64.6 GW of solar capacity will need to be deployed.  That total includes both utility-scale facility and distributed solar.  Assuming half is utility-scale solar that means we can expect 32.3 GW of industrial solar installations.  I have reviewed Article Ten solar facility applications and 11 included both the proposed capacity (MW) and area expected to be covered with equipment.  The average was 9.3 acres per MW so that means in order to meet the CLCPA targets 300,300 acres or 469 square miles of land will need to be covered with 32.3 GW of solar panels by 2050.

CLCPA Borrego Solar Rutland Center Solar 1 January 24, 2021

The Climate Act does not include a feasibility analysis so there is no feasibility planning.  This is an issue because the plan does not adequately address the multi-day winter doldrum period when wind and solar are at their lowest expected availability.  The headlong rush to develop solar projects does not consider whether the projects can be expected to provide power for the worst-case period.  This post showed that the Borrego Solar Rutland Center Solar One 110-megawatt solar facility appears to be in area where the average snowfall is 150” per year.  I concluded that supporting this project when it is more likely than not that it will be unable to provide power when needed most is not a good idea.