Cortland County seeks outside counsel on local solar law

Solar panels. (Photo Source: Kevin L. Smith of The Cortland Voice).

Cortland County legislators will consider paying a law firm about $10,000 for recommendations on the county-wide solar energy Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) law. 

Discussions on an amendment that would essentially remake the law have been tabled since November last year, after several residents and municipal officials vehemently showed their opposition to the law. 

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. It also designates the County Industrial Development Agency (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.

The county wants to contract Albany law firm Hodgson and Russ LLP for help on alternative energy as a whole. Legislators voted unanimously to contract the law firm at last week’s County Agriculture, Planning and Environmental committee.

“It seemed like the best approach is to bring in some experts to help us,” said Legislative Minority Leader Beau Harbin (D-LD-2). “(County Attorney Victoria Monty) says she is not an expert in PILOT or renewable energy law. She noted we need some help to figure out the best course of action.“

Harbin criticized the current law. 

“The solar law is just not helping the county. Projects have fallen through the cracks over the years,” he said. “The county has missed out on and that is not helpful to the taxpayers, nor is it the best for our municipalities.”

The $10,000 is a one-time expense, Harbin said.

The law firm, Harbin said, has worked on similar projects in the counties of Wyoming and Cattaraugus. Republican Legislature Chair Kevin Fitch, LD-8, spoke in support of the measure.

“We can go further a lot faster with someone who is an expert.” Fitch said.

Legislators will get to vote on this resolution at incoming county meetings.