County to start charging solar speculators


By Patsy Nicosia

If you want to build a solar project in Schoharie County, you’re going to be putting some money up.
Up front.
Frustrated by solar projects that don’t go anywhere, and alarmed by reports that New York State could be extending some $500 million in tax incentives for solar developers, supervisors are now requiring a $10,000-$150,000 pre-application fee based on the size of the project.
The fee would be 75 percent refundable once the project is approved and a PILOT accepted, with the remaining 25 percent retained by the local town or village.
If the project isn’t approved within a year, the fee will be forfeited; 75 percent will be divided between the town and village and 25 percent will go to the county.
“They do it for everyone else,” Blenheim Supervisor Don Airey told supervisors as he explained the resolution he’s put together with help from Sharon Supervisor Sandy Manko, whose town has become a solar hot-spot.
“It’s a joke having to justify this to people who pay taxes…” especially when Town Boards and Planning Boards are investing so much of their time and resources in what often turns out to be just speculation.
“We need to control the process rather than having the developers dictate it,” Mr. Airey said. “It’s been never-ending.”
Under the new fee schedule, a pre-application fee of $10,000 per megawatt will be required by renewable energy companies, payable to the host town or village, with a minimum of $25,000 for projects less than 2.5 megawatts and a maximum of $150,000 for projects 15 megawatts and larger.
The schedule also sets a minimum of $25,000 per megawatt for a PILOT.
The NYSERDA—New York State Energy Research & Development Authority—suggests PILOTS of $1,500-$3,000 per megawatt, but in 2017, with the help of then-County Treasurer Bill Cherry, the Town of Sharon was able to negotiate a substantially higher PILOT--$45,000 for the first year of a 15-year deal—for the Birdseye Solar project off Route 20.
That’s become the county standard.
The new fees came after talks with NextEra Energy to install a solar facility at the new jail fell apart due to it “not meeting their model,” Mr. Airey said, after a November 13, 2019 update concluded ‘The combination of deteriorating state incentives and very high utility interconnection costs have made the proposed solar project unviable.’
“I think the project is viable, but perhaps not as profitable as they would like,” he said.
Mr. Airey said the county’s beginning to work with another potential solar developer for the jail site, but first, needs NextEra to agree to terminate the lease for site development.
Early talks with the second developer, based on the same numbers as the NextEra contract “do not look promising…” Mr. Airey said.
But that could change if the additional subsidies come through.
In its November update, NextEra suggested the county consider subscribing to community solar from a different project, but Mr. Airey wrote that off as a separate issue and not what the county is looking for.