County IDA signs off on another Sheridan solar project
By GREGORY BACON
It appears another solar project will soon be coming to northern Chautauqua County.
During a recent county Industrial Development Agency meeting, board members approved tax breaks for a solar project to be constructed at 3570 Stone Quarry Road, Fredonia, which is in the town of Sheridan.
The solar project is expected to cost $7.8 million to construct, create 31 construction jobs and one permanent position. It’s expected to be a 3.5 megawatt project on 35 acres of land, 26 of which will be fenced in.
It was shared at the IDA meeting that the Sheridan Town Board had previously issued a special use permit for the project.
A Payment In Lieu Of Taxes agreement was approved for 25 years.
During a public hearing that took place in August, a resident expressed concern that the land owner should not be receiving taxbreaks.
That comment, according to IDA officials, is incorrect. “With each of these solar projects, the solar array is a separate tax parcel. What the IDA is contemplating, giving financial assistance on, for a PILOT is the array. The underlying land would not be subject to any abatement whatsoever,” attorney Milan Tyler said.
Richard Dixon, chief financial officer for the county IDA, noted that in this case, the land was already getting a tax break and that tax break will go away. “In the case of the property, that has an ag (agricultural) exemption. They actually lose that ag exemption. The taxing jurisdiction will actually receive more money on that parcel than they did before,” he said.
Last month the county Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board sent a letter to the county legislature expressing its concern that prime agricultural soil is being used for solar projects.
Board member Dennis Rak owns the property where the solar project is proposed to be built. He said the land isn’t good for farming. “Where this project is being located is certainly not prime agricultural land. We struggled to find a profitable crop to grow on it for a long time and that’s why this is appealing to us,” he said.
County IDA Director Mark Geise said local municipalities must give their approval for projects before any PILOT or other tax breaks are provided. At the same time, he said the county IDA is willing to provide assistance to towns and villages when considering solar projects. “We are going to create a template that local municipalities can use to help guide them in this process,” he said.
Another issue the IDA will help with is the decommissioning of the projects once the lifespan of the development is up. “We’re going to look around the state to see what other municipalities are doing to ensure that what we’re suggesting or recommending to municipalities will ensure that in the future these projects get decommissioned appropriately,” said Geise.
Meanwhile, state Sen. George Borrello and Assemblyman Andrew Goodell have introduced legislation requiring developers of industrial solar and wind farms to provide a reclamation bond to ensure the proper decommissioning, reclamation, or recycling of wind turbines and solar panels once they have reached the end of their useful life.
County IDA Board Chairman Mike Metzer believes more solar projects should be expected. He noted that both former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and current Gov. Kathy Hochul have set aggressive goals for renewable energy. “We are well below the targets as a state, as a county and as Western New York that have been set for clean energy. We desperately need additional projects and continued projects in order to even come close to these goals set by the governors,” he said.
All board members voted in favor of the project except for Rak, who abstained, because he owns the property.
Developers told IDA officials they hope to start construction soon and have the project operational sometime toward the end of next summer.
This is the third solar project to get approval this year in Sheridan. In June the IDA issued PILOT agreements with Dimension Renewable Energy to build two solar projects on a 100 acre parcel at Werley and Harrington roads. That property is being subdivided.