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Community Solar Project in northern Lansing to be mowed by sheep

Agricultural land mitigation was the topic at a public hearing Monday on a 6.5 megawatt community solar farm project proposed on farmland on Jerry Smith Road in northern Lansing.  in response to the Tompkins County Planning Department concern about preserving 'prime farmland', Nexamp Business Development Manager Joseph Fiori explained how the company plans to protect the 24 acres beneath the solar array during the life of the project, and steps being taken to restore the property to usable farm land once the project is decommissioned.  Fiori said the land beneath the solar array will be largely or entirely mowed by sheep.

"We're actually using the same farmer who is on the Cornell property on our Newfield property," he said. "That's one of the things that we're looking at to try to keep the agricultural integrity of the property.  It's a type of agricultural use on the property.  We also put together an agricultural mitigation plan.  We understand that is going to be a chief concern in this community, making sure that retrieving this area with a lot of the soil that is considered to be prime farmland to make sure all of our construction practices are done in such a way that they enable the area underneath the panels to be brought back to farmland once the array is decommissioned."

Mowing is expected to take place between two and four times per season.  Any additional seeding will use native seed mix, and the company has offered to use 'using a pollinator friendly seed mixture, such as a flowering clover' if the Town is interested.

Fiori said that Nexamp already implements a number of 'best practices' recommended by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, including decompacting soil after construction and segregating topsoil while construction is taking place.  Using sheep will potentially eliminate the need for two to four people using rode-on mowers and weed whackers, which Fiori pointed out will be better for the environment as well as his company (and the sheep).

"It's something we're now going to start rolling out for most of our projects," he said. "For us that is a benefit because we won't need to do as much mowing, and most likely we won't need to do any mowing.   It provides the sheep farmer a place for their sheep to continue to graze."

Fiori said the farmer has said the sheep like grazing at solar farms because the solar panel arrays provide comfortable shading.  He explained that she rotates the sheep among different solar farms during spring, summer, and fall months, and taking them back to her farm in winter.

Nexamp Community Solar PlanClick image for larger view

Nexamp has also proposed a decommissioning agreement, which will insure that funds are available for restoring the farmland even if the company defaults on its responsibility to do so.  The company will provide a surity of $71,965, the remainder of $210,167 decommissioning costs estimated after salvage value of the solar panels and other equipment are subtracted.

"In the unlikely case that Nexamp does not fulfill its obligation to remove the facility the Town will have funds it can use to deconstruct the facility and return the area to its existing state as a productive agricultural area," Fiori said.

During the public hearing two neighbors expressed concerns about stormwater runoff, and contamination of the soil should the solar panes be damaged.  Engineer Daniel Yanosh said that storm water mitigation should be better than it currently is.

"There are gaps between the panels," he said.  "So (rain water will run off) each panel, into the ground.  There's no gutter so the water is not going to collect. It's going to be absorbed into the ground and slow it down, so it should improve what you have."

In response to another concern Fiori said that toxic materials do not contaminate the ground when panels are damaged, except in the case of a fire.  While he acknowledged that is not the case for some brands of panel, he said that Nexamp is using a product that is safe.

The Lansing Town Planning Board did not close the public hearing.  Chairman Tom Ellis said the public could continue to submit input.

"We'll keep the public hearing open," Ellis said. "If you have any other questions contact the Planning Department and we can address them in another meeting."

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