November 28, 2021

C’ville solar project giving officials and residents pause

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Officials and residents expressed concerns Tuesday regarding financial information and willingness of the solar project developer to follow local laws as part of a $90 million, 90 megawatt project in Cortlandville, Homer and Solon.

The 600-acre project is proposed to be spread out over the three towns near the Cortland County landfill, said Jack Honor, the development manager of project for developer EDF Renewables, said earlier this month. That would be enough to power about 20,000 homes.

It would create 150 construction at its peak and three full-time positions to operate and maintain the facility, he said.

Full approval for the project — which would come from the state Public Service Commission — could take up to a year, leading to construction potentially starting in the fall of 2022.

While still a year off, residents and officials have shared concerns on the project.

Peter Morse-Ackley, a resident of Cortlandville, said that the town and the developer haven’t been as transparent as they could be with financial information on the project, specifically whether the developer is trying to pay in its payment in lieu of taxes agreement less than what the town wants.

“Without the tax information, I can’t make a good decision on the project,” he said.

Morse-Ackley said EDF is looking to pay $2,500 per megawatt while the town’s rate is $7,000 per megawatt.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority suggests in a guide to municipalities that solar project PILOTS in the National Grid and New York State Electric & Gas Corp. service areas can feasibly expect between $1,700 and $5,000 per megawatt. Beyond that becomes cost-prohibitive for development.

Jack Honor, the development manager of the project for EDF Renewables, said the rate it has opted for would provide “five to six times more revenue than the land it utilizes currently generates in property taxes.” Additionally, the higher rate the town is looking for is higher than the project can support.

Morse-Ackley said he’s emailed Town Supervisor Tom Williams and Town Attorney John DelVecchio for more financial information on the project and what the town is getting but hasn’t received answers.

Williams could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Victor Siegle, a Homer resident, also said EDF should be taxed at the regular town rates.

“Every million dollars successfully negotiated downward by EDF would an additional million dollars profit for EDF and a painful million-dollar loss to us,” he said in an email.

He continued in saying that “unless and until EDF submits audited financial plans and projected cash flow statements, the Cortland County Industrial Development Agency has no evidence that EDF will not use our tax abatements to increase their profits above New York State Energy Research and Development Authority recommended levels.”

Morse-Ackley also said the town missed an opt-out period for the town to determine if it wanted to provide tax breaks for the project.

DelVecchio said Morse-Ackely was wrong and that “the town did what it is required to do under the law to secure its ability to collect taxes under the company.”

DelVecchio was unable to provide further details.

He said Cortlandville received $31,500 in intervenor funds in February that can be used to hire professionals, such as engineers or solar legal experts, who can intervene and provide assistance in the project. These funds can be used across the three towns.

Solon Town Supervisor Stephen Furlin said for him, the issue has been about EDF following the town’s solar laws.

He said EDF has wanted the setback distance for non-participating landowners’ properties at 250 feet while town law requires 500 feet and the setback distance from wetlands at 500 feet when town law calls for 1,000 feet.

“They want to play by a different set of rules,” Furlin said.

However, the project is governed by a different set of rules. Because of its size, the EDF project is governed by the state Public Service Commission’s Article X. Under that process, large solar projects such as this can bypass some local laws, although it has to take local concerns into account. The Article X process allows EDF Renewables to seek waivers to the local law.

Honor said EDF is seeking waivers of the local law. The project, he said, has “avoided impacts to all state-regulated wetlands, and nearby residences are adequately screened with existing trees, which will remain,” he said. he added the project was designed in the spirit of the law to not affect state-regulated wetlands and nearby homes.

The project, Furlin said, has created a lot of uncertainty.

“I don’t think any town honestly knows what they are going to do,” he said.