Towns can choose the effect solar farms will have on property taxes – The Altamont Enterprise

Posted: January 18, 2020 at 10:01 am

DUANESBURG New York State has put into place tax exemptions to encourage development of renewable energy, which played out last week in Duanesburg, a rural Schenectady County town, that granted payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs, for two solar farms.

New Yorks Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act requires 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 and economy-wide, net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Eden Renewables plans to install Oak Hill Solar 1 and Oak Hill Solar 2 on about 65 acres on Duanesburg Road. Last Thursday night, at its regular January meeting, in a unanimous vote, the Duanesburg Town Board approved PILOTs for both projects.

The solar projects were approved in September, and the PILOT applications for tax breaks had first been introduced to the public just two weeks before they were approved, at the last town board meeting, on Dec. 26.

The town had received the documents requesting a tax break for Eden Renewables about four weeks prior to the Dec. 26 meeting, Supervisor Roger Tidball told The Enterprise after the Jan. 9 meeting. The PILOTs were listed on the agenda for the Dec. 26 meeting, he said, and he had held an impromptu public hearing that night, which was held over to Jan. 9.

Copies of the PILOT applications, attached to the Jan. 9 agenda, said that the owner will make annual payments to the taxing jurisdiction for 15 consecutive fiscal tax years, in lieu of real-property taxes. On each of the two solar farms, the first payment will be $8,125; the annual payments will increase by 2 percent every year.

Eden has a separate PILOT agreement with the Duanesburg Central School District for the same amounts on each of its two projects. Schenectady County has opted not to enter into a PILOT agreement on the Eden projects.

[Related:Duanesburg adopts solar moratorium after already approving big projects]

If Eden Renewables were to pay the real-property taxes, once the solar farms are established, the tax money for Oak Hill 1 and Oak Hill 2 would total more than that, said Duanesburg Assessor Michael McGuire.

However, Duanesburg has not opted out of the tax exemption, under the states Real Property Tax Law, for alternative energy systems such as solar.

From the time that a developer contacts a municipality to say it wants to build a solar farm, a municipality has 60 days to tell that developer that it plans to require a PILOT agreement, McGuire said; the developer can then decide whether to accept that and begin to negotiate, or bring the project elsewhere.

If no PILOT is put into place, a solar farm in Duanesburg would be exempt from property taxes for the first 15 years. The developer must apply to the town for the exemption.

Duanesburg has one existing solar farm, built by Onyx Solar. Onyx was started in 2014 by the investment firm Blackstone Group, whose chief executive officer is Steve Schwarzman, former chairman of Donald Trumps Strategic and Policy Forum. With a net worth of $17.7 billion, Schwarzman is ranked number 29 on Forbes 400, a list of Americas wealthiest.

The Onyx solar farm in Duanesburg does not have a PILOT, McGuire said, and is exempt, for 15 years, from all real-property taxes except for special-district taxes, generally for fire and ambulance. Once the 15 years is up, it would become liable for full taxes.

A developer could try at that point to negotiate a PILOT, McGuire said.

This is all relatively new, and nobody has hit that 15 years, the Duanesburg assessor added.

The town of Guilderland in neighboring Albany County passed a local law in 2017 opting out of the solar exemption, so a solar developer in Guilderland would need to pay property taxes, if it did not have a PILOT agreement.

McGuire does not yet have any numbers for what the assessed value of the Oak Hill solar farm will be; Eden hasnt even broken ground yet, and McGuire hasnt yet received the subdivision paperwork from the county. The tentative assessment roll is released in May based on whatever is there as of March 1, he said. The solar farms at Oak Hill will probably not have a full assessed value, based upon a completed project, until 2021, he said.

McGuire noted that Duanesburgs equalization rate is just 32.8 percent.

An equalization rate is the percentage of full-market value used as the assessment rate. It is set by the state. The rate is meant to equalize taxes among municipalities so that, for example, with county taxes, if someone owns a house worth $100,000 in the city of Albany, that person will pay the same amount of Albany County taxes as a person who owns a $100,000 house in Guilderland.

Guilderlands rate was lowered in 2017 by the state from 88 percent to 75.58, leading residents on the edges of town, in other school districts, to see their property taxes rise precipitously. Last year, the town undertook a town-wide revaluation, bringing its assessed value up to 100 percent, to resolve the problem.

If you looked at a property in Duanesburg with a full-market value of $1,000,000, McGuire said, its assessed value would be $328,000 and taxes due on it would be roughly $28,700. Of that, $19,500 would be due to the school district; $7,750 would go to the town and county combined; and $1,250 would be due to special districts such as fire and ambulance.

On the parent parcel 143 acres owned by Murray taxes last year were $4,400, McGuire said.

Even with a PILOT, Eden Renewables will still need to pay the special-districts tax for fire and ambulance, as well as the property taxes on the land only but not on the solar farm, McGuire said.

The PILOT applications could have been requested prior to the meeting under the Freedom of Information Law by residents who wished to see them, said a woman who answered the phone in the town clerks office late Thursday afternoon. Residents would not be able to stop by the town hall and look through a particular projects file just by asking, the woman said; they would need to fill out a FOIL request.

Under New Yorks Freedom of Information Law, an agency has five days to respond to a request; the agency can take up to 20 business days to produce the documents.

Duanesburg resident Lynne Bruning told The Enterprise that many local towns, including Schoharie, put all of the documentation about proposed projects on their website. Bruning and her mother, who live next to the property where Eden Renewables plans to build a solar farm, have filed an Article 78 proceeding, challenging the towns approval of the project (see related story).

Who has time to come to town hall, then come back again and pay the money for copies? Bruning said to The Enterprise after the meeting about the FOIL-request system. She pointed to a sign the town halls front window, listing the offices hours. You can only come between 8 a.m. and 12 noon, or 1 and 4 p.m., she noted.

Its important that our towns comply with current technology, Bruning said.

Tidball told The Enterprise that people who make FOIL requests might be able to get the material on the spot and might not need to make a second trip if its ready and available.

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Towns can choose the effect solar farms will have on property taxes - The Altamont Enterprise

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