Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Land rush for solar farms could net landowners big bucks, but landowners should beware

Solar-panel farm (Getty Images by Peter Macdiarmid)
In many parts of the U.S. there is a rush by solar-power developers to lock up land that would be good for solar-panel farms.

Rural New York landowners are being flooded with offers of big bucks to allow solar panels on their property, David Robinson reports for The Buffalo News. The land rush is similar to the leasing flurry that swept across parts of the state "in the early 2000s as natural gas drillers scrambled to sign leases with landowners in anticipation that the state would approve regulations that allowed the development of highly productive gas wells using the controversial hydraulic fracturing process. That land rush petered out when the state banned fracking."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo "has set a mandate for the state to get half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, with the state offering its own incentives in addition to federal subsidies to encourage the installation of solar panels across the state," Robinson writes. That's led to an aggressive push "for more electricity to be generated from solar and other renewable sources."

Landowners can earn about $1,500 per acre over a 20-year period for agreeing to solar panels, Robinson writes. Over 20 years that can lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in income.

Big money hasn't been enough to sway some residents, Robinson writes. One such resident, Cemal Basaran, said the contract allowed the company to "opt to lease just a portion of his 116 acres, but signing a deal would prevent him from putting solar panels anywhere else on his property that is within a one-mile radius" of their panels. "He was bothered by restrictions on burning wood and other activities that could reduce the amount of sunlight that hits the panels. And he was concerned about provisions that could allow Cypress Creek to extend the 20-year lease for another 20 years."

Dennis Vacco is a former state attorney general now working with the New York State Farm Bureau to help landowners understand the potential risks and rewards of signing deals to allow solar panels, Robinson writes. He "said landowners should proceed cautiously before signing a lease, including determining whether a solar farm would change the zoning of the land from an agricultural designation, potentially triggering a tax penalty for putting farmland into commercial use. Also, once the lease expires, how much work and money would be required to restore the property to a usable state after the panels are taken out?" (Read more)

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