Updated: May 30, 12:30 p.m., with job creation details
While acknowledging ongoing opposition and unsightly solar panels, Byron Town Supervisor Peter Yasses said the municipality has won the lottery as a result of its Host Community Benefit agreement with Excelsior Energy Center LLC – the company proposing to build a 280-megawatt solar system in the town under Article 10 of the New York State Public Service Law.
“You’ve won the lottery, but you’ve won the lottery for 20 years,” Yasses said on Friday in discussing the status of the project, which would turn 46 parcels of farmland covering about 1,600 acres into a sea of solar panels. “Every year this check comes – with a 2-percent increase. To me, that’s huge for the town.”
The check that Yasses is talking about is the $1,006,522 that Excelsior Energy would write to the town in year one of a 20-year HCB fee schedule that increases by 2 percent each year. Per the contract, the first annual check would arrive within 30 days after the start of construction.
All told, combining a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) with the Genesee County Economic Development Center, special district charges, agricultural exemption revenue and the negotiated host benefit fee, the Town of Byron – if the project receives final approval – would be on the receiving end of $24 million over the two decades.
Yasses said he and the town board took a stand to get what they felt was a fair price for the cost of losing the aesthetics of farmland and fields.
“We had to go into this with an open mind. At any means, it’s not going to be pretty for the town as far as having to look at the panels,” he said. “But it really has nothing to do with our town board. This is getting rammed down our throats by (Gov.) Andrew Cuomo through Article 10.”
The Article 10 provision (which is being replaced by Office of Renewable Energy Siting) authorizes the state’s Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment to oversee development of large solar facilities, bypassing much local control.
Siting Board Public Hearing is Tuesday
On Tuesday (June 1), the siting board will be conducting a public statement hearing -- a key step toward the end of the Article 10 process – via teleconference from New York City with Administrative Law Judge Gregg Sayre presiding.
Two sessions are scheduled – 1 and 6 p.m. – for community members to participate.
A determination on a permit to proceed with the project is expected by April. Developers are anticipating the solar system will be operational by the end of 2023.
Yasses said attorneys hired by the town during this process, which started more than two years ago, told board members their hands were tied.
“When a lawyer sits you down in executive session and says, ‘It’s coming whether you like it or not and there is nothing you can do about it,’ that paints a different picture in your mind,” he said. “Again, these aren’t going to be looking pretty in our town – we know that; the town board knows that. However, we had to do what is best for the people that have to look at these things.”
Yasses: We Changed Our Game Plan
Yasses said the board changed its approach from “defense to offense,” and through five months of negotiations forged a deal that it felt was justified.
“Paul (town attorney Paul Boylan) and I were charged with the negotiation and I, knowing what these things (panels) look like, did not want to sell out my town. At first they were talking nowhere near this kind of money and some of the propaganda they were dishing out – it was something like $400,000 to $500,000 a year. That’s peanuts,” he said.
“I said, ‘No way, I want a million (dollars). I won’t say who … but there were some big people in the county and town who said, ‘You’re dreaming.’ I said that’s my threshold. I want a million dollars a year for the Town of Byron. I have to live here, my people have to live here, my kids are going to live here and my grandkids are going to live here.”
Yasses said the HCB agreement was signed on April 28 at a board meeting via Zoom.
“The board was pleased,” he said, adding that he believes about a third of the annual payment can be used for property tax relief.
“Approximately a third of it will be injected into our budget,” he said. “I can’t say that the tax rate will go down but this is going to help not to raise taxes because Genesee County cut our sales tax distribution by more than that. We took some pretty drastic measures to keep ourselves in good shape, but I’m not sure the tax rate will go down.”
Residents Will Have a Voice
He said it will be up to town residents as far as how to spend the remainder of the windfall.
“Most likely, we will hire a financial advisor and we’ll probably select a committee through the citizens to help us come up with wants and needs,” he said. “It’s the community’s money and I want the community to have a say on how they spend their money.”
A closer look at the financials involved with the project reveal that the town, Genesee County and the Byron-Bergen Central School District will benefit from the PILOT negotiated between Excelsior Energy Center and the GCEDC.
Per the HCB fee schedule, the county would get $281,775 in year one and the school district would get $675,703 in year one. The town’s share would be $120,522 and, again, these payments come with a 2-percent annual escalator clause.
The GCEDC Board of Directors is expected to vote on tax incentives for Excelsior Energy Center at its meeting on June 3. Excelsior is seeking $21,498,313 in property tax abatements over the 20 years and $11,288,287 in sales tax abatements (for construction materials).
Jim Krencik, GCEDC director of marketing and communications, said Excelsior Energy would be investing $345.55 million – with $1.82 million in the first year alone to the three taxing jurisdictions based on $6,500 per megawatt.
$84.7 Million Into the Local Economy
“Excelsior’s investment over the 20-year project horizon is estimated to generate $117.5 million into the local economy when you consider the total PILOT payments, host community agreement, estimated fire district payments and related tax reductions, and construction purchases and payroll,” Krencik said.
The solar company said 290 full-time equivalent jobs will be created during the construction phase and 3.1 FTE during project operation and maintenance (solar technician, tech leader and high voltage technician).
Krencik pointed out that when subtracting the tax incentives from the direct economic impact figure, the direct benefit in excess of costs is $84.7 million over the 20 years.
And, of course, the farmers who have signed contracts with Excelsior Energy to lease their land will reap financial rewards.
Yasses said that he and others from the town will be on the siting board public hearing call on Tuesday and expects that those in opposition will be as well.
“We have heard those against it loud and clear. But, we had to do what we felt was right for the community,” he said. “This the best deal in New York State. We had some people scratching their heads wondering how we got it. It was through tough negotiations – that’s how we got it.”
Previously: GCEDC's public hearing on the Town of Byron solar project: An 'incentive' for parties to voice their opinions