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My View: Solar saves farms

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July 31, 2018 11:55 am

I am a farmer. My parents were farmers. My grandparents were farmers. My family began farming in Coxsackie in 1979 when my father bought land from a local farmer who had gone out of business.

Today, I am proud to be actively farming land our family has been cultivating for nearly four decades.

Over the years, agriculture in our community has changed a lot. I remember a time when there were more than a dozen farms on Farm to Market Road. Today, our family farm is one of only two farms on that road.

To keep their farms viable, farmers constantly face make-or-break decisions about how to use their land. From the beginning of my life in agriculture, I’ve known that it’s tough to make a living in farming. Once, my father had to sell 35 acres to pay property taxes, so he could keep the rest of our farm operating. Over the years, it has only gotten tougher as competition in national and international markets increasingly affects our bottom line.

For many farmers, here in the Hudson Valley and elsewhere, the prices they get for their product simply isn’t enough to keep farming. So, they sell their farmland to developers of residential subdivisions, golf courses and other non-agricultural uses.

As my family considered ways to keep farming, we discovered the opportunity to turn part of our farm into a solar farm. Hecate Energy, which has developed solar farms across the nation, proposed building a 50-megawatt solar photovoltaic facility here in Greene County. That proposal, which would only use about one-third of our 1,200-acre property, will sustain our family farm for future generations while cultivating the growth of green power in Greene County.

I’ve worked hard all my life to keep our farm viable and our land productive. My family is committed to keeping our community a great place to live and work. I trust Hecate Energy shares that commitment.

Hecate Energy is listening to community interests and the company has already made significant changes to the scope and layout of the solar farm. Besides helping to keep our family farm viable, Hecate Energy is looking at ways to mix agriculture into the solar farm’s operations.

In some parts of the country, solar farms provide grazing land for sheep that help manage the vegetation and eliminate the need for mowing. I’ve also heard of solar farms planting wildflowers and pollinator-friendly vegetation, and even growing crops among the arrays of solar panels.

I’m for that. But the proposal to build this solar farm isn’t just about saving our family farm. It’s also about bringing a lot of other economic, environmental and energy benefits to our community.

The developers of the solar farm, Hecate Energy, will provide millions of dollars in new payments to the village, town, county and local school district — revenues that will be many times greater than the property taxes currently being paid on that land. In addition, Hecate Energy will provide dedicated funds to support the local fire department, the ambulance service and the community library.

Hundreds of new jobs will be created by the development and construction of the solar farm. And when it’s up and running, there will be employment opportunities in maintenance and operation. The economic activity from the solar farm’s construction will also boost business at local stores, restaurants, lodging and gas stations.

The solar farm’s clean energy will help to protect air and water quality from the pollution produced by other forms of electricity generation. In addition, as price of electricity from other sources increases when their fuel costs increase, solar energy — with its free energy from the sun — will help to hold down overall power costs.

So, this solar farm will not only help save our farm, it will serve our community by contributing new revenues to the coffers of local government, schools and other public services, by boosting prosperity with new jobs and investment, and by protecting natural resources with clean, renewable electric energy.

Over the years, my family has consistently demonstrated our commitment to protecting and improving the quality of life in Coxsackie as we’ve preserved our farm and the benefits it provides. I believe the proposed solar farm will likewise benefit our community and help to sustain our way of life.

It’s just this simple: Solar saves farms and serves communities.

Mark Flach is a third-generation farmer in Coxsackie. He and his family have operated F&M farms in Coxsackie since the 1970s. He currently is working with the developers of the Greene County Solar Farm off Farm-to-Market road to place solar panels on one-third of his farmland so he and his family can afford to continue farming the other two-thirds of their land.