In Westerlo's ‘perfect storm,’ solar moratorium enacted

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Councilman Joseph Boone, at center, defended a moratorium on commercial solar, describing walking his dog on May Road and seeing silos and farms along the way, and imagining the view “obliterated by panel after panel.” 

WESTERLO — On Tuesday, Aug. 6, the Westerlo Town Board voted in favor of enacting a year-long moratorium on commercial solar arrays, commercial wind turbines, and the energy-storage systems that could be used to collect energy in these systems.

All four council members — two Democrats and two Republicans — voted in favor of the measure. William Bichteman could not vote on the measure due to his status as acting supervisor.

“I think we’re closing the barn door after the horses have left,” said planning board Chairwoman Dorothy Verch, a Republican running in November against Bichteman, a Democrat, for the supervisor’s post.

She saw such a moratorium as unnecessary, especially when the town could likely not support more large-scale arrays due to the limited capacity of a nearby electrical substation.

Last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which requires 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 and economy-wide, net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Since Westerlo enacted a law in 2017 that updated its zoning ordinance to include regulations on residential and commercial solar arrays, the town’s planning board has approved five commercial arrays owned by three different companies.

At the former Shepard Farm resort, located at the intersection of routes 32 and 405, two 45-acre plots were divided out of the 190-acre property, owned by Rensselaerville supervisor John Dolce and construction-company owner Steve Haaland, for the construction of two commercial arrays. Two community solar arrays owned by Clean Energy Collective are located on seven acres of land off of Route 351, and on 11 acres at the intersection of routes 32 and 405. Another two-megawatt array, owned by Costanza Solar LLC, was approved off Route 405.

A map of the arrays, compiled by The Enterprise, can be found here.

 

 

 

But the town board has since then revised some parts of the law, and it was mentioned that more revisions are possible. Additionally, the town is currently preparing to update its comprehensive plan.

Councilman Joseph Boone described the situation as a “perfect storm” for a moratorium on commercial arrays. He said the law may have been put in place too quickly, and noted a number of South Westerlo residents have been concerned by the arrays sprouting up in and around their hamlet.

“Unfortunately for those South Westerlo folks, there’s a thought of South Westerlo becoming ‘Solar Westerlo,’” he said.

Most of those who spoke during the public hearing that preceded the vote took little issue with a moratorium on wind turbines or battery-storage systems, but some questioned the need for a moratorium on commercial solar.

Republican council members Amie Burnside and Richard Filkins voted in favor of the moratorium. Matthew Kryzak, who is running on the GOP line with Verch for town council, said he agreed with a moratorium, noting it is temporary.

Verch said that the two Shepard Farm arrays are paying $75,000 a year, three-quarters of which will go to the Greenville School District; one quarter will go to the town of Westerlo. Costanza Solar will have the same split with its $17,000 PILOT. So, the town of Westerlo will receive about $20,000. Bichteman commented that the town is receiving a fraction of what he believes is Westerlo’s fair share.

 

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A state tax law provides a 15-year property tax exemption for properties with renewable energy systems, applying to the value that a system adds to the property, rather than all property taxes. Local governments can then ask commercial developers to have a payment in lieu of taxes. The exemption is in effect unless a municipality opts out of it, but the exemption will also no longer be allowed for residential arrays.

Verch told The Enterprise earlier that, while the taxes on these solar projects would have been much higher than what is being paid in the PILOT if the town had opted out of the PILOT program, the town would have had to tax residential solar arrays as well as possibly driving away the commercial solar companies with high taxes.

Bichteman said at the Aug. 6 meeting that he was concerned about large-scale projects, particularly with new state deadline to be reliant solely on renewable energy. For arrays generating more than 25 megawatts, a state board permits a project rather than a town to set the parameters. Interim town attorney Javid Afzali said that a moratorium would prevent a company’s authority superseding the town.

dottyverch@prot...
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Joined: 11/17/2017 - 22:54
My quote in this article was INCORRECT.

I supplied a documented accounting of the amount of monies that the solar farms would provide to Westerlo residents in the GCSD and the remaining amount that would come into the coffers of the Town along with a community grant of $15.000/ project totaling $75,000 to be applied to the improvements of the Town's parks.
The amount that was stated in this article IS INCORRECT. Please refer to the documentation that was supplied to Rose at the meeting on Aug 6th. If that has been misplaced, I can supply along with documentation from the Assessor, Peter Hotaling.
Dotty

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Response

 We clarified, above, that, while what we reported was accurate (Westerlo will be collecting around $20,000 a year in PILOTs) we had not included the funds that Dorothy Verch had said at the meeting would be going to the Greenville School District.

Separate from that, and not part of the meeting discussion, Verch told us this week that each solar farm will be contributing $15,000 to Westerlo parks. With five arrays expected, that would total $75,000 for parks.

Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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