COPAKE—If a state siting board ultimately approves a 500-acre solar facility in Craryville, the Town of Copake demands the right to tax it.
It seems that state Real Property Tax Law section 487 makes such facilities tax exempt unless the municipality with the jurisdiction to tax it, “opts out” of the law.
At its September 10 meeting via Zoom, the Town Board unanimously approved a resolution making the tax exemption available under real property tax law “not…applicable within the boundaries of the Town of Copake with respect to any solar or wind energy system, farm waste energy system, micro-hydroelectric energy system, fuel cell electric generating system, micro-combined heat and power generating equipment system, electric energy storage equipment and electric energy storage system, or fuel-flexible linear generator electric generating system, constructed subsequent to the date of the Resolution, or any other energy system eligible for the real property tax exemption pursuant to §487 of the Real Property Tax Law…This Resolution shall take effect immediately.”
Hecate Energy, a Chicago-based energy company, proposes to build an industrial-sized 60-megawatt solar facility in Craryville, a hamlet in the northwest corner of the Town of Copake.
Hecate’s “Shepherd’s Run” project calls for the installation of 200,000 solar panels on 500 acres within a 900-acre project area. The facility will be located near the County Route 7/State Route 23 intersection, primarily south of Route 23, although specifically where the solar panels will be placed has not yet been revealed. Most of that land is now used for farming.
Hecate has applied for the project under a state Article 10 proceeding. The company seeks approval for its solar facility from the state Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment instead of the town Planning and Zoning Boards.
“I absolutely believe in the urgent and existential threat of climate change. But I also believe that 500 acres of solar panels is just too massive,” Town Supervisor Jeanne Mettler said speaking in support of the resolution at the meeting.
“In its eagerness to address the urgency of climate change, the State of New York has trampled on ‘Home Rule’ and totally disregarded the laws and sensibilities of communities like ours. So, if, at the end of the day, and against our wishes, 500 acres of solar panels are to be installed, the very least that the Town of Copake can expect is that they will be able to tax these panels. I think it is entirely appropriate, and prudent for the town to be proactive in passing this resolution tonight, to preserve Copake’s right to tax,” she said.
Alex Campbell, Hecate Energy project developer, also spoke at the meeting, noting Hecate has previously said publicly that it intends to pay between $5 million and $7 million in tax revenue. “We intend to pay taxes and are ready to do that,” he reiterated.
Resident Jay Schiff questioned over how many years the $5 million would be paid, saying that if it was paid over 20 years, the taxes would calculate out to $250,000/year, “which is not that much money given the potential loss and all the other problems we could have here.”
Mr. Campbell confirmed the amount would be paid over the life of the project.
‘The State of New York has trampled on Home Rule.’
Supv. Jeanne Mettler
Town of Copake
Councilman Stosh Gansowski wanted to know whether the $250,000 annually would be in addition to the amount of taxes currently paid on the property. Mr. Campbell said it would be additional.
Resident Lindsay LeBrecht brought up the matter of how long Hecate expects to be around to pay these additional taxes if the project is constructed.
Mr. Campbell answered that how long Hecate will own the project is unclear. He said “a 20-year career is very rare these days.” But regardless of how long Hecate stays, Mr. Campbell said the contracts Hecate establishes will remain in place, such as agreements through the Article 10 process, operating and maintenance agreements, “none of it changes.”
Mr. Schiff made the point that if Hecate went bankrupt, unlike a residence, which could be sold, there are not many buyers for a 500-acre solar field. He said the company that owns the small solar panel field on State Route 23 across from County Route 11A did go bankrupt and all the screening that was supposed to obscure the solar panels “never happened” and now there is no one to go after.
Mr. Campbell said that Hecate does tend to sell its projects once they reach commercial operation. But to Mr. Schiff’s bankruptcy point, he said the way the project is financed puts bankruptcy “out of the realm here,” though he acknowledged it could happen.
Mr. Schiff, who said he is a commercial lender and understood how the financing works, said there “is no guarantee” that the expenses such as the taxes are paid every year. “It is a risk the investors are willing to take.”
The discussion continued with regard to problems surrounding the unrecyclable nature of the solar panels themselves.
The board subsequently passed the resolution that will allow the town to tax the project.
A public hearing was held on a new Local Law entitled “Revisions to the Copake Town Code as it Pertains to Solar Energy Facilities” prior to the September 10 Town Board meeting. According to the attorney representing the town with regard to this solar project, Benjamin E. Wisniewski, Esq., the new law is “designed to ensure solar power plant sitings are: consistent with local planning objectives; preserves community character; complies with farmland protection policies; and further protects Copake from potential decommissioning costs associated with removing abandoned projects.”
Action on the new law was tabled until next month when the board meets October 8 at 7 p.m.
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