January 20, 2022

Towns to seek solidarity on solar proposal

Solar Panel Stock photo

Metro Creative stock image

Homer town officials plan to work with their counterparts in Cortlandville and Solon to develop a unified response to a proposed 90-megawatt solar farm that would extend among those towns.

The Homer Town Board discussed its plans as it voted unanimously Wednesday 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.

EDF Renewables has proposed a $90 million, 90-megawatt project that would spread solar panels across 600 acres in Homer, Cortlandville and Solon, generating enough electricity to power 20,000 homes.

The town had public hearings in October and November to accept comments on the proposal to opt out. Residents argued the fee of $2,500 per megawatt offered by EDF was far too low.

At the October hearing, one resident supported solar power generation projects to combat climate change while one resident objected to the fee as too small and another questioned the need for the power the project would generate.

Garry VanGorder, executive director of the IDA, said the company has not yet requested a PILOT. In anticipation that it would, the agency agreed last summer to a request from the towns of Cortlandville, Homer and Solon to set a minimum rate of $7,000 per megawatt, which includes a host agreement fee of $1,500 per megawatt.

The $7,000 figure is much higher than solar projects are paying in Central New York, VanGorder said. Informed of that figure, EDF has said it is too high, he said.

However, the state recently established an assessment model for solar farm projects that would likely be more financially beneficial to developers than a PILOT agreement, VanGorder said.

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 municipal laws, although it has to take local concerns into account. The Article X process allows EDF Renewables to seek waivers to the local law. The company has applied to the state for a permit.

The project is predicated on getting payment in lieu of taxes agreements rather than paying the full property tax bill.

Opting out of Section 487 of the state Real Property Tax Law makes any equipment or other improvements to the property for the project subject to local property taxes.

Homer town lawyer Patrick Snyder said EDF officials have said they would seek a payment in lieu of taxes agreement through the Cortland County Industrial Development Agency, which sets a specific tax figure for several years.

Solon opted out of Section 487 of the state Real Property Tax Law more than a year ago, making the land in the town that would be part of the solar farm subject to local property taxes.

Cortlandville has not yet acted to opt out. The Cortlandville Town Board enacted a moratorium on new solar farms while it creates rules for such projects.

Homer Town Supervisor Fred Forbes said residents will have more bargaining power if the towns work together.

“We want a unified policy, if we can,” Snyder said. Snyder said it makes sense for the towns to agree on the rates and requirements if a PILOT agreement is negotiated between the Cortland County Industrial Development Agency and EDF.

Solon Supervisor Cory LaSalle said Friday that the town would be interested in talking with Cortlandville and Homer officials about the property tax issues.

“We are working separately,” LaSalle said. “It would be good if we do not duplicate efforts.”