Warner Hill, Schoharie solar project would be exempt from local review


By Patsy Nicosia

The Borrego question still hasn’t been answered and now, the Town of Schoharie is looking at the possibility of a much larger, 100-acre project, off Ward Lane on Warner Hill.
Because of its size, the proposed SWB Solar project wouldn’t be subject to local review, Supervisor Alan Tavenner said Wednesday.
Instead, like the 50-megawatt NextEra Solar Project off Route 20 in the Town of Sharon, review and permitting will be handled by the state.
The state Public Service Commission’s Siting Board approved the Sharon project in January; the SWB project would go through the state’s Office of Renewable Energy Siting, created in 2020 by Governor Andrew Cuomo as a way to fast-track large-scale energy projects.
Mr. Tavenner said SWB officials have told him they’ll likely wait until the ORES regulations are approved before moving ahead with things like public hearings and SEQRA.
“It’s designed to cut the local towns, villages, and counties out of the whole process,” Mr. Tavenner said.
It’s also likely to get worse.
Governor Cuomo’s 2021 budget includes a provision that could lower property assessments—and so local tax revenues—on solar and wind projects larger than one-megawatt.
The Schoharie County Energy Committee has been lobbying towns and the IDA to set a minimum PILOT payment of $20,000 per-megawatt for solar; the state suggests $3,500 per-megawatt.
Wednesday, Schoharie considered and then passed a resolution setting a $20,000, 20-year PILOT minimum for projects five-megawatts or larger—a step other towns have also taken.
“So at least we’d get some decent revenues out of it,” Mr. Tavenner said.
Any PILOT revenues would be divided equally between the town, Schoharie Central School, and the county, he said. Tavenner said.
Friday, the Schoharie County IDA, which now handles PILOT negotiations, is expected to consider the $20,000 per-megawatt minimum.
One question raised about the Warner Hill project was what would happen if land in an Agricultural District was taken out of ag.
According to Dave Jones, assessor for the Town of Schoharie as well as the Towns of Sharon and Carlisle, the “cost” of converting land in an Ag District to a non-agricultural use would be a payment of five times the taxes saved in the most recent year of benefit as well as a six percent interest charge for each year during the last five that the land was assessed and taxed as agricultural.