Should new Groton solar farm get tax breaks?

The Groton Town Council continued its discussion of the potential solar project by Abundant Solar Power, Inc. at a meeting on Nov. 12.

Abundant Solar Power is proposing a large-scale solar array be installed on about 40.3 acres of land on Cortland Road to “provide clean energy under the NYSERDA NY-Sun Initiative,” according to an application submitted to the town.

The proposed solar array would be five megawatts and would feature a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement, meaning the town would receive compensation for some or all of the property tax revenue lost.

Heather McDaniel, Administrative Director for the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency (IDA), said she estimates each megawatt to be worth between $4,200 and $4,800. In this instance, with a five megawatt project, the town would receive a property tax payment of about $21,000 in the first year of the PILOT. That total would increase by two percent over each year.

“It provides certainty,” McDaniel said. “For tax jurisdictions, you know what you’re going to get in tax payments. It provides certainty for the project so that they can underwrite and finance those facilities over a 20-year period. It provides additional tax revenue for the municipalities.”

Councilman Brian Klumpp asked McDaniel what those numbers would be if the town were not to participate in the PILOT, to which McDaniel said she was unsure of those numbers.

The crux of the conversation centered on the logic and fairness of this project receiving a tax break if it were to be built. Attorney Dan Spitzer, who represents Abundant Solar Energy, said in order for the company to achieve its goals with these projects, it needs a tax break.

“It only works if we can take the revenue from the units and the subsidies and the tax credits, and sell energy in a way that low-income people…save 10 percent on their energy bill,” Spitzer said.

Spitzer said all generation projects, not just solar projects, that have been built in New York State have received some sort of tax break. He said because the company is selling their product cheaper than it is actually worth, it would not be able to make a profit if it had to pay full taxes.

Town Supervisor Donald Scheffler questioned how viable of a model that would be for a business.

“We have successful businesses here now that have never asked for a tax break or expected one,” Scheffler said.

Spitzer said the money from typical PILOT programs relieve the burden on taxpayers, not so much as generate wealth for the entity itself. However, when it comes to PILOT programs for solar projects it is different.

He also said there are no negative consequences with choosing the PILOT program.

“It doesn’t cost the community anything,” he said. “No police requirements, no fire requirements … no school decreases.”

Klumpp said he does not like making different rules for certain businesses when it comes to negotiating things like taxes.

“If solar companies have the right to come before a municipality and say, ‘Alright, let’s negotiate,’” he said. “If that’s the case then every business owner should come to the Town Board and say, ‘Well, I don’t want to pay full taxes. I’m a doctor. I’m offering a good service. Your community needs a doctor, so I can only afford to pay $300 a year for my property taxes.’”


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