December 4, 2021

Homer extends public hearing on solar

Solar Panel Stock photo

Metro Creative stock image

An hour after Homer residents began debating at a public hearing Wednesday what actions the town should take and whether it should allow a payment in lieu of taxes for solar projects, including a 600-acre, $90 million, 90-megawatt solar farm, town board members adjourned the public hearing to continue it Nov. 3.

Three people spoke during the hourlong hearing before the town board called a halt to it. The hearing was to gain comment on whether to opt out of Section 487 of the state Real Property Tax Law, which provides exemptions from taxation for solar energy projects, regardless of size. That would require solar farms to pay a property tax bill instead.

Victor Siegle, of Homer, and Michael Barylski, of Cortlandville, traded comments, mostly over a proposal by EDF Renewables to install solar panels across parts of Homer, Cortlandville and Solon, generating enough electricity to power 20,000 homes.

However, 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.

It’s also predicated on getting payment in lieu of taxes agreements rather than paying the full property tax bill.

“The more I learn about energy, the more strongly I am committed to creating a future of 100% carbon-free energy in Cortland County,” Siegle said. “I also endorse equitable property taxes for all industries including solar projects, but there is no compelling reason to give EDF any property tax abatements.”

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.

EDF proposed paying $2,500 per megawatt, which Mike McMahon, owner of E-Z Acres Farm in Homer and chairman of the Cortland County Industrial Devlopment Agency, said was too low, although he didn’t give a more acceptable figure.

However, Barylski, a former Cortland County legislator and employee of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said the planet is in a legitimate climate crisis, so federal, state and local governments are encouraging solar projects.

“All I would ask of you, with a planet that’s burning up, is do we really want to take the chance of discouraging projects that might have a beneficial impact on future generations?” Barylski said.

“If you opt out, then you’re looking at also eliminating the small projects,” he added. “It’s all or nothing.”

The board uanimously agreed to reconvene the public hearing for 6:30 on Nov. 3, when the board is scheduled to vote on the topic.

“I think we need time to digest the information that we’ve learned that will allow us to make an intelligent decision,” said board member Barry Warren.

Supervisor Fred Forbes said he wants to get input from the attorney of the Cortland County IDA and other taxing entities, such as school districts.