County Legislature considering countywide solar PILOT law

(Photo Source: Unsplash).

An amendment to an existing law that would make the Cortland County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) negotiate payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreements with solar project developers is making its way through the County Legislature.

A draft of the local law was approved via a 5-2 vote by legislators at Thursday’s Agriculture, Planning and Environmental committee. The amendment eliminates the county’s asking price of $7,000 per megawatt (MW) generated and codifies the need for PILOT agreements on solar projects. 

The local law also designates the County IDA as the lead agency to negotiate a PILOT agreement if a developer proposes a project directly to county officials. If a project is proposed directly to a municipality, that municipality can negotiate a PILOT with the developer.

“We’re saying to companies ‘work with our professionals, work with those in economic development in the county that know what’s going on,’” Legislative Minority Leader Beau Harbin (D-LD-2) said of the amendments. 

The negotiating floor of $7,000 per megawatt has been prohibitive for companies to negotiate projects in Cortland County.

If the PILOT can’t take into consideration the infrastructure costs that project sponsor might have to put forward, and which would be a benefit to the community and the county, then you’re missing a real substantial point,” said Michael Barilsky, a member of Cortlandville’s solar committee. Barylski, a former Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) employee, has a contractual relationship with EDF Renewables, a company that has expressed interest in setting up solar projects in the county.

“You need the IDA to be able to approach companies. The planet is on fire, we need to move now,” he said. “If you look at the data, you will not find in any surrounding counties anything that resembles a $7,000 balance. As a result of that, that’s exactly why we have not seen any project sponsors or solar projects come through Cortland County.”

Victor Siegle, a resident of the Village of Homer, spoke in opposition of the measure.

“There is no reason to surrender the watchdog and legal powers of our active County Legislature,” Siegle said. “There's also no reason to override the approval powers of our towns and school districts.”

The IDA, Siegle said, stands to benefit from PILOTs.

“The IDA also receives a 1 percent fee from each completed PILOT,” he added, with that amount having been less significant in the past, but will reach $1.3 million. “Now, if the IDA intends to retain a large sum in return for a PILOT, it may lead to a fundamental conflict of interest when negotiating a solar PILOT.”

New negotiations, according to BDC/IDA director Garry VanGorder, are starting lower than $7,000 per megawatt.

“​​My latest information I have is that for utility grade projects, you're looking at $4,000 per megawatt at the top of negotiations,” he said, adding that could include a host community agreement that benefits the municipality hosting the project directly.

The County Legislature will have a public hearing on these amendments at its Oct. 27 legislative session. The Legislature is set to vote on these amendments at its Nov. 17 meeting.