IDA not sold on solar PILOTs


By Patsy Nicosia

The Schoharie County IDA needs more time to consider a Board of Supervisors’ resolution that sets a $20,000 per-megawatt minimum for solar PILOTs.
NYSERDA—the state’s energy arm—suggests a fraction of that—just $3,100 per-megawatt.
But that doesn’t come close to measuring a project’s local impact, argued Energy Committee chair Don Airey, who brought the $20,000 figure to the IDA Thursday.
IDA members Peter Johnson and Ben Oevering backed Mr. Airey’s figure, but other members wanted something in writing that also looks at granting PILOTs on a project-by-project basis first.
“It looks like we have a solar conundrum that’s going to generate a lot of heat no matter what,” said IDA chair Chet Burton.
How, he asked, did the energy Committee come up with the $20,000 figure? a question Mr. Airey flipped.
“I wish someone would ask NYSERDA how they came up with $3,100,” he said; developers for Birdseye Solars in the Town of Sharon didn’t balk at a $15,000 PILOT there and negotiations for another project he didn’t identify are at $90,000 for a three-megawatt project.
“We went with $20,000 to have a standard that we know is economically viable,” Mr. Airey said, though $25,000 and $30,000 were also discussed.
“Frankly, $20,000 is still less than fair, but it’s reasonable. It’s still a deep discount when you look at what we’re giving up: very valuable grid capacity that could be used for economic development and to create real jobs.”
PILOTs are tax breaks traditionally given to companies in exchange for job creation.
Even the 50-megawatt NextEra solar project just approved by the state in the Town of Sharon, however, is expected to mean just a few jobs once construction is over.
Joe Trapani, IDA vice chair, however, warned against a set PILOT.
The IDA has to listen to everyone, he said—including the State of New York and those who support solar projects.
“I believe in home rule, but I’m not sure it’s necessary to put a number on this right now,” Mr. Trapani said. Maybe it will be $30,000, maybe it will be $15,000…”
That’s a point well-taken, Mr. Airey said, but Schoharie County and the IDA need to recognize the millions any solar project stands to make through not only selling electricity, but incentives and tax credits and demand that the companies be true partners.
That partner part is missing with NextEra, he said.
NextEra had refused to share construction costs with the independent assessor the county hired to help calculate the full-value tax assessment or PILOT.
At first they refused, he said, now they’re requesting the county sign an—illegal—non-disclosure agreement first.
“So, so much for partners,” Mr. Airey said.
“We have to stay strong…Two or three years from now, these projects may be going for $40,000. I don’t want to be the dummy who goes for $20,000.”
Joe Scott, an attorney for the IDA, said the state is watching what IDAs do with solar.
“I’m concerned that if we take what some consider extreme action…this power [setting PILOTs] may be taken away from us…$20,000 is aggressive. It’s a weighty issue.”
Mr. Airey said he’s already heard talk that the state may change how solar projects are assessed—lowering their value and with it, taxes.
“How long before we’re paying them?” he asked, “because that’s the way it’s going. Yes, the state might not be happy, but they don’t care if we’re happy and I don’t think we’re being unreasonable.”
Mr. Johnson said there’s nothing wrong with communities being treated equitably by solar and Mr. Oevering called Mr. Airey’s a well thought-out plan on an issue towns might not be able to tackle on their own.
Mr. Burton asked Mr. Scott to put something together that reflects the supervisors’ resolution and alternatives for the IDA’s February meeting.