Cortlandville approves solar energy laws

(Photo Source: Unsplash).

The Cortlandville Town Board unanimously approved three bills Wednesday that would control most solar energy projects in the future.

The bills, which were developed by a solar law committee chaired by town attorney John DelVecchio, have been presented at prior meetings. A breakdown of the bills can be seen here.

“Thanks again committee members for helping me draft these solar provisions,” DelVecchio said. “I truly believe that if the town adopts these provisions, Cortlandville will have one of the best and strongest solar laws in the region and state.”

Cortlandville residents noted their disagreement during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Town resident Pamela Jenkins opposed the notion of encouraging and allowing Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreements, which is part of one of the solar laws approved.

“PILOTs short change schools and local taxpayers,” she said.

Jenkins also raised a concern regarding Michael Barylski, a member of the solar committee, establishing a conflict of interest regarding his work with the committee. Barylski, a former Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) employee, has a contractual relationship with EDF Renewables, according to Jenkins and DelVecchio. EDF is a company that has vested interest in a massive solar project that cuts through the towns of Homer, Solon, and Cortlandville.

“I had the ethical obligation to make sure there were no conflicts of interest as the chair of this committee,” DelVecchio said. “Barylski does own property in the town and has a contractual relationship with EDF. I addressed that very early on in the game. He disclosed the relationship.”

DelVecchio said the town’s adopted laws do not hold sway over the EDF project. 

“That project is governed by a different set of regulations adopted by New York State,” he said. “The proposed provisions Barylski assisted with and the town will adopt will not affect or be related to that project as it pertains to his project. There is no conflict of interest or any appearance of one.”

According to DelVecchio, town residents will concede on the local ordinances.

“My prediction is that one of you or all of you will come to me and say I was right,” he added. “The state will eventually act legislatively and eventually take power away from municipalities. Every solar project will be governed by some sort of state system or procedure.”

Bob Martin, a member of the solar committee, spoke at the meeting. He highlighted his disapproval of the local law governing PILOT agreements for solar projects. Instead, Martin said, the town should look to opt out of Section 487 Real Property Tax Law at the state level. This law notes that some energy systems, including solar and wind, are exempt from taxation.

“(The town should look to opt out of this law) rather than establish a PILOT law. The towns of Solon, and Homer have already opted out,” Martin said. “All three towns will have a renewable, 600-acre, 90-megawatt (EDF Renewables project) solar farm in their towns.”

Martin also explained that because of the size of the EDF project, the jurisdiction for the project falls under Section 94C of the state’s Executive Law. Due to this, Martin added, certain projects can bypass some local laws. 

“The towns of Homer and Solon have indicated a willingness to work with Cortlandville and would have more bargaining power by having a unified policy,” Martin said.

Another objection Jenkins had with the laws included her perceived “large impacts upon agricultural resources, forests, and community character.” Jenkins said the town should further study these impacts.

“There is no analysis as to how many acres of ‘prime farmland’ this would open to industrial solar,” she said. Prime Farmland is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as land that has the best combination of physical and chemical characteristics for producing food, feed, forage, fiber, and oilseed crops and is available for these uses. Jenkins urged the town to adopt that definition.

“Land that is resting now could very well be needed in the near future,” she said. “There are no examples of large scale solar farms being converted back to active agriculture…issues regarding compaction, erosion and leaching may make it impossible to revert industrial solar farms to agriculture. Thus, the impact of the new law upon agricultural resources could be large.”

In summation, Jenkins said the adopted local law “opens up an unknown number of Prime Farmland acres throughout the town to an unknown number of acres of industrial solar development, opens up forests to be cut down to make way for solar, and takes the zoning board of appeals out of the equation for sites that violate zoning.”