December 8, 2021

Solon wants more say on solar project

Solar Panel Stock photo

Metro Creative stock image

Officials and residents of the town of Solon in western Cortland County gathered Thursday in Town Hall and expressed concerns that their interests are being ignored in the approval process for a $90 million solar farm planned mostly within the town.

They plan to change that, and representatives of the project developer agreed to abide by town rules.

“If they are going to steamroll us through Article 10, there is going to be a fight,” town Supervisor Stephen Furlin told more than 20 people who filled a small meeting room.

Furlin was referring to the state approval process that EDF Renewables launched Sept. 13 when it filed its Public Involvement Plan with the state Public Services Department. The process shifts much of the approval authority for the project to the state, although some deference must be given to local laws.

The project would be built on 600 acres, most of it centered around Soshinsky and Heath roads in Solon and Cortlandville, and some farther north, in Homer. It would generate enough power for about 20,600 residences.

Furlin said he worries the town would see little financial benefit if the Cortland County Industrial Development Agency negotiates a payment in lieu of taxes agreement with EDF.

The equipment would be exempt from taxes but annual payments would be scheduled. The town can opt out of that PILOT and negotiate its own deal with the company, Furlin said.

A special meeting of the Solon Town Board was scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 3 to continue discussion of the project.

Furlin said officials from Cortland County and EDF had not yet met with Solon leaders to discuss the project. Company representatives attended Thursday’s meeting and answered questions from the audience.

Solon officials plan to create a local solar law to set guidelines for development of solar projects Furlin said.

Jack Honor, development manager for grid scale power for EDF, encouraged the town and said the company would abide by the rules it creates.

The project also includes land in Cortlandville and Homer and Honor said the company has been attending town board meetings and will do so again next month to present information about its project, Honor said after the meeting.

Concerns raised Thursday from the audience over about a half hour include storm water, fire safety and spot zoning.

Victor Siegle of Homer offered a draft of solar regulations for the town board to consider and recommended other steps the town could take to protect its interests.

In response to the concerns of residents, Honor said the solar panels do not contain toxic substances, visual screening such as trees would be used to block the panels from neighboring land and the company would train fire departments on how to respond to any fire on the property.

He said the company would do more to communicate with the town in the future.

The state process, which Honor estimated might take 2 1/2 to three years to complete, requires the company to pay about $100,000 to fund municipalities and organizations that want to participate in the approval process. It pays such costs as consultants, attorneys and experts.

Furlin said town officials are frustrated by a system they say takes advantage of small communities.

He noted state energy policy and tax breaks are encouraging solar development that can change the character of towns, but the process gives those communities no direct control over development.

“We are an easy target in rural America,” Furlin said.