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Town of Byron

July 27, 2022 - 12:41pm

The chair of ad hoc committee charged with exploring clean energy initiatives in the Town of Byron sees the municipality’s Clean Energy Community designation by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority as a springboard for further action.

Now, she just has to get the Town Board’s support.

“By completing the five action items as required by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority, the Town of Byron has earned a $5,000 grant to assist with future clean energy initiatives,” Candace Hensel said today. “We are looking to use the money towards completing additional high impact actions that will help us progress in the CEC program.”

Hensel is the driving force behind the Clean Energy Resources Information Committee, an informal group that reports monthly to the town board. Active members include Kaitlyn Moucha, Sara Stockwell and Brian Stacy. Other town residents participate, depending upon the project.

The action items completed by the town to receive the CEC designation are benchmarking, energy code enforcement training, adopting a unified solar permit and an LED conversion of the town’s streetlights. Hensel said it was credited for a fifth action item for advanced benchmarking.

Points are awarded for each of the 14 action items identified by NYSERDA, with grant amounts based on the number of points.

The Town of Byron now joins the Town of Batavia and Village of Bergen as NYSERDA Clean Energy communities. Other municipalities in Genesee County participating in the program are the Village of Corfu, Town of Pembroke and City of Batavia.

Hensel said her “eyes were opened” to what was going on in New York State regarding clean energy when she heard about the 280-megawatt Excelsior Energy solar project in the Town of Byron.

“I had tried to get the town to look into some of the incentives available to communities, but I really didn’t get anywhere with the town so – about two years ago – I created a petition and got a list of names of other people who at least thought the town should look at into some of these programs,” she said.

Eventually, the town board authorized Hensel to chair a committee (CERIC) to explore the possibility of attracting grants to assist with community clean energy projects.

Hensel said she felt much better about putting a group together and pursuing clean energy opportunities knowing that she had the town board’s backing.

“In New York State, from the governor’s standpoint and to the trickle-down effect to DEC and NYSERDA and then you go on to the utilities, they’re all required to participate – to an extent – and comply with a lot of these clean energy programs that have been enacted,” she said.

Hensel said CERIC was unsuccessful in its bid to receive intervenor funds from the Excelsior Energy solar project, but that hasn’t stopped the group from its goal of “investigating incentives and reporting back to the town with our recommendations for participating (in the Clean Energy Communities program) and the advantages of doing so.”

“The town board listens to our report monthly but really, as a whole feels its capacity is limited or can’t put the time in; so, we do get stonewalled,” she said. “They did, however, let us pursue the Clean Energy Communities program, and no town funds were expended toward this CEC designation.”

She said CERIC also is looking into the Climate Smart Communities program administered by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“The benefits of participating in the DEC program are much greater,” she said. “Grant incentives are much greater – with funding of up to 50 percent of major clean energy projects. So, we see that the carrot at the end of the stick is much greater.”

Hensel said CERIC requested that the town board vote to join the Climate Smart Communities program “because all of the actions that we completed in one, we can apply to the other.”

“Representatives of the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council did a presentation for the board and a resolution was made, but at that board meeting, no one would second the motion to continue on for a vote for that particular program,” she said.

CERIC isn’t giving up on that, however, as it plans to approach the board again on the DEC program next month.

Town Supervisor Peter Yasses said CERIC must report its recommendations and proposals to the board but can “make no commitments” while Town Councilman Eric Zuber said his concerns center upon the stipulations for receiving the grants, especially those that include the town having to match funds for a particular project.

“There are a lot of bells and whistles – hoops you have to go through,” Zuber said. “Anything that we do has to make sense for the town in the long-term.”

Hensel said the committee currently is involved with a clean heating and cooling campaign in conjunction with Pathstone and the GFLRPC that kicked off in April at the Genesee County Home Show.

“They are following up to complete energy audits and have them as part of the Heat Smart Finger Lakes North program,” she said. “Hopefully, people will sign up with a contractor, who will evaluate their homes and make recommendations on heat pumps or geothermal and to see if anyone wants to learn more about those and the tax credits that go with them.”

April 6, 2022 - 1:32pm

The New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment minutes ago, by a 5-1 vote, approved construction of the $345 million Excelsior Energy Center 280-megawatt utility scale solar project on 1,700 acres of farmland in the Town of Byron.

The vote capped a three-year effort by Excelsior Energy to develop the solar system under Article 10 of the state’s Public Service Law – and turned aside opposition to the proposal from Byron Association Against Solar, LLC, and the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Today’s action, broadcast live on the internet from Albany, came just two days before April 8, 2022 statutory deadline.

Members of the Siting Board panel voted following a 15-minute presentation by the Hon. Gregg C. Sayre, presiding examiner for the Department of Public Service, who found that the arguments forwarded by BAAS were not strong enough to delay, alter or relocate the project.

Votes in favor of the project were cast by Tammy Mitchell, director DPS Office of Electric, Gas and Water; Louis Alexander, representing the Department of Environmental Conservation; Elizabeth Lewis-Michl, director of the Department of Health Division of Environmental Health Assessment; Vincent Ravaschiere, senior vice president at Empire State Development, and John Williams, vice president for Policy and Regulatory Affairs of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Norman Pawlak, ad hoc member assigned to the project, cast the lone vote against the proposal.

Sayre stated that while the total project area is 3,443 acres, the “limit of disturbance for construction and operation” is 1,712 acres – with 1,629 inside the proposed project fences. He also mentioned that collection lines will be placed underground and a proposed substation and switching yard will connect the grid to a New York Power Authority 345-kilovolt transmission line nearby.

The project also includes a battery storage facility with a 20-megawatt, four-hour duration capacity, he said.

Three of the five parties in the matter – the DPS, Excelsior Energy and the Town of Byron – reached an agreement on details of the project in the fall of 2021, while the Department of Agriculture & Markets and BAAS joined together against it, including the hiring of a law firm to articulate its points to the Siting Board.

Sayre said the opposition’s key points focused on taking away much of Byron’s prime farmland, changing the “character of the community” and noncompliance with the comprehensive plans of Genesee County and the Town of Byron.

The administrative law judged addressed each one, as follows:

Using and Converting Prime Farmland

“The Department of Agriculture and Markets objected to 30 percent of the project being located on prime farmland and objected that a solar energy project constitutes a permanent conversion of farmland to non-agricultural uses. The draft order finds that the argument about permanent conversion of farmland has been considered before by the Siting Board and was rejected in the Hecate Energy Albany case decided in January of 2021,

“In that case, the Siting Board concluded that a commercial solar facility does not result in a permanent loss of farmland. Where, as in both that case, and in this case, the certificate conditions require the land to be fully restored as closely as possible to its prior condition upon decommissioning to the appropriate security for the decommissioning.

“In this case, there is some permanent loss of farmland due to access roads, and other similar construction, but it amounts to only about 31 acres, which is less than 1 percent of the project's area. The draft order also notes that the applicant has agreed to follow the Department of Agriculture & Markets guidelines for solar energy projects, which deal with construction mitigation for agricultural lands.

“The developer also has agreed to hire a health, safety and environmental manager with agricultural qualifications, as well as agreeing to various reporting requirements and coordinating requirements that involve in the future and … Department of Agriculture staff. Although the department is certainly correct, that agriculture agricultural production will be reduced in the footprint of the project for approximately 30 years, the reason behind that loss is that the property owners in question have voluntarily entered into lease agreements with the applicant.”

“BAAS offered two studies to support its position that the project will have a massive negative impact on farming in the Town of Byron. One of the reports was based on a completely erroneous number of affected acres, starting from the proposition that 3,500 acres of agricultural land would be removed from use for the life of the project. The correct acreage is 1,712 -- about half the amount in the study. That report is also deficient in using one year of crop pricing, in its analysis of impacts rather than a longer average given the price fluctuation that actually occurred over the course of several years in the town's top 10 crops.”

Destroying the ‘Small Town Feeling’

“BAAS offered the testimony of witnesses who stated that the visual impact of the project will destroy the small town feeling and tight knit community spirit of the area of the project. However, that testimony does not directly take issue with the significant visual screening measures that the applicant has agreed to take -- a fair number of plantings, the use of existing woodlands and hedgerows and other screening measures.

“The testimony also does not take direct issue with the visual impact analysis offered by the applicant that indicates that there is minimal expected visibility within the affected visual study area, which is the area within a radius of 5 miles around the fence line of a project. Under these circumstances, the draft order concludes that the BAAS testimony is overstated in claiming that the project will destroy the rural community, and finds that visual impacts have been avoided or minimized to the maximum extent practicable.”

Inconsistent with Comprehensive Plans

“The third issue in dispute is based on the testimony of a local resident who was speaking for himself, not for the town or the county, that the project is inconsistent with the town and county comprehensive plans. The resident is absolutely correct in stating that the protection of agricultural lands is listed as a goal and both of those plans.

“But the draft order finds that the argument of the project's inconsistency with these plans fails for three reasons. First, the town comprehensive plan also explicitly supports the development of clean energy resources. So, there is necessarily, as with most land use issues, some balancing required of competing goals.

“Second, the town in 2021 adopted a solar law that allows for some agricultural siting. The town found that the law was consistent with its comprehensive plan. And the county planning board implicitly found that the law was consistent with both the town and county comprehensive plans when it approved the town law. It is also noteworthy that the project disturbs less than 1 percent of the county's prime farmland.

“Third, as I noted, the … witness was speaking for himself. Neither the town or the county chose to file testimony or briefs against the project. The draft order concludes that the project is in fact not inconsistent with the town or county comprehensive plan.

“I should note that the applicant requested a waiver of 10 specific requirements of that town environmental law. The applicant produced evidence that with respect to these requirements, compliance would make it uneconomical to build the project. No party opposed those proposed waivers, and the order grants them.”

CLICK HERE for press release from the Siting Board.

June 30, 2021 - 2:06pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Town of Byron, Republican Primary.

Peter Yasses has won last week's Republican Primary for the Town of Byron supervisor position.

The incumbent today said he learned, following a hand count of all the ballots (including absentee ballots), that he drew six more votes than challenger Gerald Heins.

A Genesee County election office spokesperson confirmed Yasses' victory, with the official final tally at 90-84.

At the end of voting last Tuesday, Yasses held an 82-78 lead.

Yasses said he expects another challenge in November from Heins, who he said is starting his own party.

"It looks like it's going to be Republican (Yasses) against his party," Yasses said, who noted it will be a repeat of what happened in the general election two years ago.

Asked for a statement concerning the outcome, Yasses said, "I think solar has divided the town a bit, and I think he (Heins) sent out a letter with half-truths to it that helped him more than I thought it would. Hopefully, he'll be straight with the people in November instead of half-truths again."

The election office spokesperson also confirmed that Heins has registered to run in November under the Byron Independent party.

Phone calls to Heins seeking comment have yet to be returned.

Official results of the other Republican Primary races in the county are as follows:

Town of Bethany Town Justice -- Vote for any Two (Republican): Joseph Nowakowski 66, Jeff Wolak 58, Nicole Szymkowiak 40, Christopher Hausfelder 27, Peggy Johnson 24.

Town of Stafford Clerk – Vote for One (Republican) -- Barbara Radley 187, Julie Scheuerlein 38.

June 1, 2021 - 5:46pm

People on both sides of the solar fence – farmers who have signed on to lease their land and labor union representatives who are for it and longtime residents who are against it – expressed their views this afternoon at a public statement hearing on the application of Excelsior Energy Center LLC to construct the 280-megawatt, 1,600-acre Excelsior Energy Center in the Town of Byron.

The one-hour hearing took place via www.webex.com, with the audio livestreamed on YouTube.

A second hearing is scheduled for 6 o’clock tonight. Information needed to access the session can be found at the end of this story.

Administrative Law Judges Gregg Sayre of the Department of Public Service and Molly McBride of the Department of Environmental Conservation presided over the hearing, which allowed for brief statements (longer statements could be submitted via email or mail) but no question-and-answer period.

Sayre said that all comments in all forms will be considered by the New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment (siting board) as it decides whether to allow the project to go forward.

The Byron Town Board already has indicated its support for the project, emphasizing that Excelsior Energy has committed to payments totaling $24 million to the municipality over a 20-year period.

A citizen-led organization known as Byron Association Against Solar, which includes Town Councilman Eric Zuber, has been outspoken in its opposition of the venture – citing disruption of the rural character of the community and the use of prime farmland.

The project also includes a 20-megawatt, four-hour duration energy storage system. Components would consist of solar arrays, access roads, buried and possibly overhead electric collection lines, energy storage and electrical interconnection facilities.

According to the siting board filing, additional facilities would consist of a new collection substation and 345-kilovolt switchyard, which would connect to the New York State grid and would be transferred to the New York Power Authority to own, maintain and operate.

Participating local landowners include Legacy Lands LLC; Brooke-Lea LLC; Call Lands; Lea-View Farms LLC; Richard Colby; L-Brooke Farms LLC; John Starowitz; Leo Starowitz Jr.; Star Growers Land LLC; John Starowitz and Andrew Starowitz; John Sackett Jr. and Charles Sackett; CY Properties LLC; and Call Lands Partnership.

Following is a summary of today’s public statement hearing:

Debra Buck-Leaton
Byron Town Clerk and owner of Lea-View Farms Inc.

Buck-Leaton contended that the solar project will provide many advantages to “our farming business and the community.”

She said that her family farm has been in operation since 1929, being passed down through three generations, and “has always prided ourselves in being good stewards of our land – preserving it for future generations.”

She said increased costs of farming are overwhelming and have led to insecurity.

“Many people have said that we are giving up prime farmland. Everyone needs to keep in mind that prime farmland is and can only be considered prime farmland if it is able to be farmed. If we can’t afford to farm the land, it can only be considered vacant land.”

She noted that revenue from NextEra (Excelsior Energy) will enable her family to make needed repairs to their buildings and equipment, and will enable the Town of Byron to “afford things that we never could have imagined.”

“With good leadership, the town will be able to be good stewards of our small town well into the future,” she said, adding that the local farmers involved with Excelsior Energy are committed to staying in the town and helping the community in the future.

James Vincent
Retired president/CEO of L-Brooke Farms and associated companies

Vincent said L-Brooke Farms has grown from 500 acres to 7,500 acres in his 55 years, covering land in six counties.

He said the company is an advocate “of green energy, integrated technology and the many advantages that the Excelsior Solar Project represents – not just because of having some of our lands involved in the solar leases, but what a dynamic and steady income stream means to our farm business model.”

He called these times as “unprecedented and challenging” for farmers, the town, school district and Genesee County” and for the economy and rural lifestyle.

Vincent said his operation pays more than $200,000 a year in local and school taxes … “but basing it on real estate taxation puts us in an unfavorable competitive position.”

“The community will benefit from this project, providing benefits that translate into less tax burden to agriculture -- the host benefit packages and the PILOT* agreement that are incorporated in it,” he said. “The importance of having solar for agriculture and associated services furthers our history of success in having diversity for our farm business.”

He said that “alternative sources of income are absolutely essential if our farm businesses and the associated land base are to be sustained and provide opportunity for future generations.”

Vincent Albanese
New York State Laborers’ International Union of North America

Speaking on behalf of 40,000 men and women in New York who are members of the affiliated local union of LIUNA, Albanese said the union “would like to strongly encourage the swift approval of the Excelsior Solar Project as it pertains to these Article 10 (state law) proceedings.”

He said the union’s interest is two-fold – (1) the well-being of its members and ensuring that any project has a commitment to using local union workers and (2) that any project pertaining to the replacement of traditional fossil fuel jobs is being built in New York with New York local union workforce.

Albanese said NextEra has committed to using local union workers.

Barbie Starowitz
Star Growers

Starowitz, a longtime Byron resident, said that since 1932, her family has always wished to grow and maintain the land for generations to come.

“Excelsior Energy Center will not only support our farm for future generations … but will also provide new local revenue, new local jobs for our community and continue to provide us with the opportunity to support other farmers in our area,” she said. “Farm communities are stronger when we work together and we will continue to support activities pursued by others in our community, on our land.”

Starowitz said that Excelsior Energy Center will pump $37.4 million to the town, Byron-Bergen Central School District and Genesee County, and create 290 full-time equivalent jobs during construction, with 90 percent of those local workers.

She said diversification is essential to the survival of farmers, who depend on the weather to yield strong crops. She said that solar will provide a steady stream of income while not removing the land from potential future agricultural use.

Starowitz also commended Excelsior Energy Center for being available to the community throughout the process to provide “valuable information” and to answer questions. She said the entire Byron community of 2,300 people will benefit from the project.

Richard Colby
Landowner

Colby, who said as a young man he worked the land that has been offered for the project, emphasized the changing use of land and decrease in crop variety over years, especially in the Town of Byron.

“One thing that the solar will bring is jobs – well-paying jobs and added value to the community,” he said.

As far as the downside, Colby said it’s just the opposite as the land won’t produce noxious smells, won’t create a lot of traffic, won’t use chemicals or rely on fossil fuels, isn’t illegal, and won’t lower the real estate values.

On the contrary, he sees home values increasing as more money comes into the community.

Colby said only about half of his property will be covered by solar panels, and he is looking for other ways to diversify crops on the remaining land.

He said he sees the solar project as a complementary land use, not as a negative use.

Carmen Serrett Jr.
President of Laborers’ Union Local #435, Rochester

Representing about 600 working members, Serrett said union employees have been hampered over the last year due to COVID-19 and looks forward to high-paying projects such.

“It’s very important that local people are working on these projects as they earn their money, they spend money locally and are boosting each local economy,” he said, adding that he would like to see it move forward as quickly as possible.

Michael Bader
Business Manager, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union #86

Bader said he represents 1,000 electricians, some of them in Genesee County, who support the project as it helps the state meet its clean energy goals and will create “good-paying careers for my members and other members of the local building trades.”

He also said it will create job-training opportunities for apprenticeships and, after construction, some long-term jobs for local people, such as mowing, plowing and maintenance.

Richard Glazier
Longtime Byron resident

Glazier said he is opposed as the panels would be placed on “mostly class one farmland, some of the best land in New York State.”

He said that droughts have pushed prices for corn and soybeans much higher, emphasizing the need to preserve good farmland.

Glazier suggested placing the panels on less valuable land, offering that renewable energy sources aren’t as desirable “as an adequate and affordable food supply.”

The panels also will cause “visual pollution” in the community, he said, and the size of the project in the small town will have a negative impact on the quality of life in the Town of Byron.

“It will never quite be the same,” he said.

He said he couldn’t fault the landowners for accepting Excelsior Energy’s offer. However, he said the Town Board is “enamored with the size of the payment in lieu of taxes” and said these projects are only available because they’re already being subsidized by the taxpayers of New York State.

Glazier also spoke about toxic chemicals in the panels and said that public sessions over the past months via Zoom were not adequate in providing information to all town residents; many of them who do not have internet access.

Jim Lamkin
Longtime Byron resident, BAAS representative

A 70-year resident of Byron, Lamkin has spoken out against the project “going on some of the best prime farmland in New York State” from the beginning.

He called BAAS a grassroots organization of longtime residents and business owners formed to prevent or limit the size of the Excelsior Energy solar system.

“We are not against solar energy but we are concerned that the placement of the solar panels is very close to residences and we are further concerned with the use of prime farmland,” he said.

Lamkin also said BAAS is “concerned that the solar project will disrupt the current and future productivity of the land, lower surrounding home and land values, will be an intrusive eyesore for the residents, and will have targeted and ripple effects in the surrounding agriculture-based economy.”

He mentioned that in December 2019, a survey was sent to about 900 Byron residents and 350 of them came back opposing the project.

He also said the applicant has failed to produce a plan that shows adequate screening of the solar arrays from residents’ views and is concerned about the potential long-term contamination of the soil.

Finally, Lamkin said the project is in “direct conflict” with the Town of Byron’s Comprehensive Plan that states that “maintaining the rural character is the most crucial factor,” along with preserving the agricultural base land and farms.

PUBLIC HEARING TONIGHT AT 6'OCLOCK

Electronic Access: www.webex.com;
Event Number: 129 881 6364
Password: June 1-6 p.m.
Phone-Only Access: (518) 549-0500
Access Code: 129 881 6364

OTHER WAYS TO COMMENT

All comments must refer to Case: 19-F-0299
Email: [email protected]
Mail: Hon. Michelle L. Phillips, Secretary, NYS Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment. Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12223-1350
Phone: 1-800-335-2120
Electronic: www.dps.ny.gov - Click on "Search" at the top of the page; then enter 19-F-0299 into the "Search by Case Number" field; click on the "Post Comments" box at the top right of the page, enter comments and submit.

*Payment In Lieu Of Taxes

May 29, 2021 - 10:47am

Updated: May 30, 12:30 p.m., with job creation details

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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

April 19, 2021 - 10:12pm

What was advertised as a public hearing on incentives being offered by the Genesee County Economic Development Center to the developer of the Excelsior Solar Project in the Town of Byron turned out to be an opportunity for parties on both sides of the issue to re-emphasize their positions.

During the 25-minute videoconference, Mark Masse, GCEDC’s senior vice president of operations, read written statements from representatives of three farms who are leasing land for the 280-megawatt, 1,600-acre system -- Star Growers Land LLC; L-Brooke Farms and Colby Homestead Farms.

Their comments supporting the project – a huge financial windfall for the Town of Byron, Byron-Bergen Central School District and Genesee County, plus the creation of 290 full-time equivalent jobs – were followed by an oral statement from Eric Zuber, Byron town councilman and community farmer, who has opposed the plan since it was introduced more than two years ago.

Excelsior Energy, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources LLC of Vero Beach, Fla., has plowed ahead under the authority of Article 10 of the New York State Public Service Law, while committing to pay the aforementioned taxing jurisdictions upwards of $44 million over the next 20 years.

The solar company is proposing to invest $345.55 million in a utility-scale solar project on multiple properties (46 parcels to be exact). It also has negotiated 20-year tax and community host agreements, including payments of $6,500 per megawatt, with a 2-percent annual escalator, to the county, Town of Byron and the Byron-Bergen school district.

$1.82 Million to Entities in Year One

What that means during year one, according to figures provided by the GCEDC, is that Genesee County would receive $281,775, the Town of Byron $862,522 and BBCS $675,703. That initial $1.82 million outlay would increase by 2 percent for each year after that for 20 years.

In return, the solar company has requested that the GCEDC approve property tax abatements estimated at $21,498,313 over that period and sales tax abatements (for construction materials) estimated at $11,288,287.

For its role as facilitator, the GCEDC receives a 1.25-percent fee – in this case, $4,319,458, which it will collect at the time of the financial closing.

Furthermore, farmers will stand to profit significantly through the leasing contracts they signed with Excelsior Energy.

Participants include Legacy Lands, LLC; Brooke-Lea, LLC; Call Lands; Lea-View Farms, LLC; Richard Colby; L-Brooke Farms, LLC; John Starowitz; Leo Starowitz Jr.; Star Growers Land LLC; John Starowitz and Andrew Starowitz; John Sackett Jr. and Charles Sackett; CY Properties LLC; and Call Lands Partnership.

Farm Reps Applaud Solar Project

In their written statements to the GCEDC board, Barbie Starowitz of Star Growers Land LLC; Jim Vincent of L-Brooke Farms, and Richard Colby of Colby Homestead Farms touted the project’s benefits for the Byron community and positive impact on the future of farming.

“The Excelsior Energy Center not only will support our farm for generations to come but also will provide new local revenue and new local jobs for our community,” Starowitz wrote, adding that the EEC has committed to hiring 90 percent of the employees (except for construction project management) from the local labor force.

Starowitz said diversification is crucial to today’s farmers.

“Farmers are trying to diversify so they can continue to stay in business in the future. Each crop year, we rely heavily on the weather. But for too many years it was either too wet or too dry. Crops have been suffering, low yields, bad quality and so on. But the farmer must still come up with the money to pay the expenses,” she wrote.

Her statement indicated that clean solar energy will help the farms to survive by reducing “economic pressures faced by farmers and encourage an approach that does not permanently remove land from agricultural production.”

She concluded by recognizing Excelsior’s “commitment to community input” by hosting monthly meetings at the Byron Hotel and reaching out to residents through other means.

“The Byron community of over 2,300 can all benefit from the solar project, working together as a positive thing for the community and future generations,” she wrote.

'Vehicle for Long-term Reinvestment'

Vincent said he and his affiliates “are advocates of green energy, innovative technology and the many advantages the Excelsior Solar Project represents, and not just because of having some of our lands involved in these solar leases … but what this means to our farm business model, providing a vehicle for long-term reinvestment, succession planning and diversification.”

He wrote that commodity prices, global trade policy, diminishing labor pool, government regulation and an unfair tax burden are making life difficult for farmers, and added that “alternative sources of income are absolutely essential if our farm businesses and the associated land base are to be sustained and provide for future generations.”

Colby wrote that while his farm is “still going strong,” technology has brought about changes to land use and the “viewscape” in the Town of Byron.

“Today, every home I know of in Byron has electricity. One hundred years or so ago, no one had electricity in their home. The Excelsior Energy Center is a good and necessary change in revenue and new local jobs for our community,” he submitted.

He acknowledged that property values could decrease, but the funding provided to the town, county and school district will be a game-changer.

“This will enable many public enhancements to the community, which, I believe, will drive up the values and make it not only that people want to live but also stay in Byron,” he wrote. “It may be a short-term inconvenience but a significant boon to local businesses – restaurants, et cetera. I see it as adding a bit of excitement to the town.”

He contends that the solar panels will cover less than half of the project’s fenced area, and much of his land will be “highly accessible along existing roads.”

In closing, he wrote that he is researching other uses for the land, including U-pick fruits and nursery stock, and even installing a hops yard to have a locally sourced input for beer brewing.

Zuber: It's Bad for the Environment

Zuber, a member of Byron Association Against Solar, then joined the meeting – expressing his dissatisfaction with GCEDC and Excelsior’s handling of the public hearing. He said he was unaware up to a half hour before the videoconference that he had until last Friday to submit written comments about the project.

“It seems like, and it isn’t quite right, that the people that are pro-solar had the opportunity to write in comments and now the comment period is over, and we were unaware of it,” he said. “I guess I knew this was going to take place, but I didn’t know the format (of how) it would work … and that has been quite typical since this whole thing started with the COVID. The transparency to communicate Excelsior’s plans is at best poor.”

Communication problems aside, Zuber said the solar project will harm the environment and will take away prime land needed to handle an increasing amount of manure.

“We’ve done an ag impact study, which the county apparently is not interested in. I am very concerned about the environmental situation,” he said. “Especially with the Cider project now coming out of the west (a similar project in the towns of Elba and Oakfield) … if the dairy industry is going to survive – I don’t see how it survives with these two big solar projects.”

Zuber said he also is concerned about waste generated by the food plants in Batavia.

“Right now, we’re spending $7 million at O-At-Ka (Milk Products) to handle the waste,” he said. “The city and the town are overwhelmed. We’re going to have the sludge come out of those plants (with) no place to go. The best place for it to go is where you’re putting these solar panels on the ideal ground … but I think the environmental (problems) are a very, very negative situation.”

'A Negative Carbon Effect on the County'

He also cited a university study that indicated that this project would have “a negative carbon effect on Genesee County.”

“This will make the carbon situation worse, does not accomplish anything that the global warming people want, and I think it is very poorly structured … I think it’s bad for the environment for the county, the town and probably the state.”

Starowitz then got on the call, rebutting Zuber’s remarks about the manure situation.

“… the gas from the manure is being pipelined directly into being sold on his property, which is located on Chapel Street Extension,” Starowitz said about Zuber’s operation. “Also, if there is concern for spreading manure on land that is now being put into solar ... I have addressed to him many times that we have farmland that would use his manure. To this day, he has not taken advantage of that. So, there are other options and other farmland for his concern of spreading manure.”

Looking ahead, the state Department of Public Service has scheduled a public statement hearing – a key step toward the end of the Article 10 process – for June 1 via teleconference from New York City with Administrative Law Judge Gregg Sayre presiding.

Previously: Byron 'mega' solar project moves forward despite opposition; virtual open houses scheduled for Aug. 31

August 31, 2020 - 8:55pm

The Excelsior Solar Project in the Town of Byron will deliver “tangible benefits to the community,” said Keddy Chandran, project manager for Excelsior Energy Center, during a virtual open house tonight.

Chandran informed viewers and listeners of the 280-megawatt, 1,700-acre Article 10 project through a PowerPoint presentation for about 30 minutes. After that, he answered submitted questions with help from engineers Dan Marieni and Michael George, attorneys Michelle Piasecki and Sam Laniado, and consultant Kaitlin McCormick for another 30 minutes.

He outlined several benefits of the program, both to landowners who have signed lease agreements and to town residents, and also touted his company’s community engagement – citing frequent formal and informal meetings, and a willingness to include a 5-megawatt Community Solar area specific to Byron and a Host Community Agreement to fund local initiatives.

Excelsior Energy is a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources LLC, a sister company to Florida Power & Light, Chandran said. Next Era Energy has wind and solar projects in 32 states and Canada with more than 23,000 megawatts in operation.

Chandran said that half of the Byron project acreage will be covered in solar panels. Some of the remaining land will be used to place equipment to provide 20 megawatts/4 hours of energy storage (batteries).

If everything proceeds according to the current timeline, it would be operational in the fourth quarter of 2022.

Key aspects of Chandran’s report are as follows:

Community Engagement

He said Excelsior Energy representatives have met with county and town planners and the Byron Town Board, held first responder sessions, talked with residents on 14 occasions at the Byron Hotel and Trail House, and have made several donations to the community.

The Host Community Agreement is a vehicle for the company to fund local projects as requested by residents, he said. Those could include measures to preserve the agricultural base, maintain the rural character, support senior and youth activities, and sponsor green energy projects.

Chandran said the 5-megawatt Community Solar addition would enable business, residents and government to enter a program that produces credits leading to lower utility bills.

“We’re excited to be able to incorporate that into the project for the residents of Byron,” he said.

The Article 10 Process

Calling it “an exhaustive process … with a rigorous number of analyses,” Chandran said the project is at the Study Scope Stipulations phase, which leads to the filing of the formal application (expected to take place sometime in September).

Michelle Piasecki, attorney for Harris Beach, said seven more phases will follow: compliance determination; intervenor funding ($280,000 is set to come to the town and other stakeholders); a public hearing; evidentiary hearing to settle any disputes; recommended decision of Administrative Law Judges; decision by the NYS Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment; and construction/compliance.

Benefits to Landowners and the Town

The list of benefits on one of the presentation slides included: that solar is cost competitive; is clean, renewable energy; creates no pollution; creates jobs; provides payment in lieu of taxes to the taxing jurisdictions; supports farmers and the local economy; and preserves the land.

Chandran said one of the myths is that solar ruins the land. On the contrary, he said, the land will be available for farming even if the solar project is decommissioned in about 30 years.

Consideration of the Landscape

He said that designers are integrating an existing snowmobile trail into the site, and are keeping tree stands in place, with connections to a game trail to consider the well-being of wildlife.

Job Creation

With a $40 million investment, Chandran said the project will create 290 full-time equivalent jobs during construction and three or four permanent high-tech positions. Additional jobs will be available for routine snowplowing and mowing.

He also said that about 70 employees on farms enrolled in the program will benefit by the consistent revenue stream – payments from Excelsior Energy to the landowners. He pointed out that about 10 percent of the prime farmland in Byron is being used.

Officials answered the following questions submitted by those participating in the open house:

About the Battery System

In case of problems with the battery storage system, emergency training will be provided to mutual aid by NextEra’s power generation division at the outset and then every year.

They said there is low risk of potential leakage or damage since high-quality products are used, and if a battery did leak, it is enclosed in a housing unit. Additionally, the company’s monitoring system features remote problem identification from its Florida headquarters.

About Solar Panel Noise, Fencing

The solar panels, made of silicon, make “subtle” noises when they rotate, and that takes place for five to 10 seconds every 10 to 15 minutes. The fencing around the perimeter will be 7-feet high, which will be lower than the trees being planted over time.

Residents were advised not to go inside the fenced in area for any reason, but to call the company phone number or a town official if something needs to be retrieved. Setback area maintenance is the responsibility of the landowners.

About Visual Simulations

Within the next several weeks, a detailed visual analysis of the layout will be made available, with and without screening, and at three different distance zones.

The presentation can be viewed by going to www.excelsiorenergycenter.com.

August 31, 2020 - 8:12am

ivison_road_1.jpg

Borrowing the title track of Bob Dylan’s 1979 album, there’s a Slow Train Coming” to the Town of Byron in the form of a 280-megawatt, 1,600-acre, New York State-supported solar energy system that seemingly can’t be derailed.

Despite the dim prospect of preventing a significant amount of the town’s farmland from becoming a sea of solar panels, longtime Ivison Road resident Jim Lamkin said he isn’t giving up.

Lamkin has led the charge for the opposition group known as the Byron Association Against Solar by rallying community members to sign petitions, fill out surveys and, generally speaking, express their feelings to the Byron Town Board and to project developer Excelsior Energy Center, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources LLC.

“We sent out a questionnaire and 319 of them came back opposed to this,” Lamkin, 74, said. “We feel that it is important for the Town Board to hold a meeting to get a sense of what everyone wants – even if they have to take a straw vote. They haven’t done that up to now.”

The Excelsior Solar Project is one of more than 50 solar or wind proposals currently moving forward under Article 10 of the New York State Public Service Law.

Article 10 makes it tougher for municipalities to restrict solar projects larger than 25 megawatts since it gives the NYS Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment much power over construction and operation.

Lamkin said he and other BAAS members are well aware of this.

“Basically, our hands and the Town Board’s hands are tied, without any say as to where the project is located, setbacks, how much land is used or any other conditions,” Lamkin said.

VIRTUAL OPEN HOUSE IS TODAY

Byron residents on both sides of the issue can learn more about the project, which also comes with 20 megawatts of energy storage, at a Virtual Open House today. Two one-hour sessions (with the same format) are scheduled for noon and 6 p.m.

According to information from Excelsior Energy, company officials will provide an update and answer questions.

Citizens can tap in to the meeting(s) either by phone -- call 1-866-807-9684 and ask to “join the Excelsior Energy Project call” -- or to view online, click here, fill out the contact information, then click on the “Join Webcast” link.

Lamkin said he is upset over the fact that plans call for a solar array to be placed directly across the street from his home. However, he said that his concerns reach well beyond his property.

 “Even if I weren’t directly affected, I would be against this,” he said. “It will change our town forever by wasting valuable farmland. Solar panels will be put adjacent to their properties and those homeowners won’t receive any tangible benefits.”

SEVERAL LANDOWNERS ARE ON BOARD

According to a map provided by Excelsior Energy Center, solar panel arrays will be spread along and near several roads, including Transit, Bank Street, Walkers Corners, Starowitz, Cockram, Batavia-Byron, Caswell, Ivison, Gillette, Tower Hill, Swamp and Bird, as well as Route 262, Route 237 and West Shore Trail.

Lamkin said that farms signing lease agreements with Excelsior Energy include Brooke-Lea, Call Lanes, Richard Colby, CY Properties, L-Brooke Farms, Lea-View Farms, Legacy Lanes, Charles Sackett and Star Growers.

Electricity generated by the system will be moved via transmission lines to Downstate locations.

When mentioned that landowners have the right to sell or lease their property, Lamkin said, “I understand that it’s their land and they do to a point.”

“But zoning laws are made to protect property owners from something not compatible with the surroundings. This Article 10 trumps over all zoning laws, and the solar company has offered the landowners so much money.”

CONFLICT OF INTEREST -- OR NOT

He said he also has issues with Town Board members who are relinquishing their land to Excelsior Energy. While no specific dollar amount has been disclosed, Lamkin believes landowners are being offered $1,000 an acre or more.

Town Councilwoman Suzanne Fuller said she was hoping to provide a 16-acre parcel on Caswell Road, but apparently it has been deemed unacceptable for the project.

“We (she said that Town Councilman Josh Kent’s family is leasing land) have obtained legal advice and it has been determined that we can vote on the project,” she said. “It is not a conflict of interest.”

Fuller said she wants to see the town benefit as well as the landowners.

“The town can really use the money,” she said. “The PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement with the county, school district and town will lower our tax rate. Otherwise, the income just isn’t here.”

Lamkin said he hopes the second and final ad-hoc member seat on the Siting Board is filled by a Byron resident.  Previously, Genesee County appointed Norman Pawlak of Bergen.

“We have been waiting since January to have the other member assigned and to date there has been no action by the state or the governor,” he said. “When our case eventually goes before the Siting Board, our lack of community representation puts us at a significant disadvantage.”

CALLING OUT THE TOWN BOARD

The Town Board can do more to determine the pulse of its residents on this matter, Lamkin said.

“I cannot believe that if a significant portion of the town residents were against it, and the board got behind them, that this project could not be stopped,” he said. “Statements like the one made by (Supervisor) Pete Yasses that ‘there’s no stopping it’ and the apathy of the community will allow Excelsior to force this project into the town.

“I, along with many in the community, voted for Mr. Yasses on his promise that he would work to stop this project. He has not listened to the people but instead has been influenced by the potential windfall to the town.”

Yasses said he has been listening, holding Zoom meetings every month – “COVID-19 has really hurt us,” he noted – and making himself available for public comments.

“Other than the BAAS group (which Lamkin says has about 270 members), we haven’t heard any opposition,” Yasses said. “This is being shoved down our throat. If Jim has to be mad at anybody, he should be mad at (Governor) Andy Cuomo.”

He added that revenue to the town from the project could reduce the tax rate and provide the funds needed to build a new Town Hall and highway garage.

CERTAINLY A ‘DIVISIVE ISSUE’

Lamkin said that BAAS has been unable to make any headway with Keddy Chandran, project manager for NextEra Energy Resources.

“We try to explain our views, but with him it’s all lip service,” he said. “All you hear from him is that everything is perfect, everybody is going to be happy and this is such a wonderful thing. He’s a master of overcoming objections.”

In the end, Lamkin said the solar project will “destroy the community – removing valuable farmland, costing agriculture jobs and decreasing property values. What’s that going to do for the image of Byron?”

Matthew Lamb, co-owner of Oakfield Corners Dairy which has been operating for more than 50 years, called solar a “divisive issue,” adding that he can’t pay anywhere near what the solar company is paying for land that he rents to feed his cows and also to spread the manure.

“Prime farmland being converted to solar -- while the economics are strong for the individual who gets to do that, it creates hard feelings,” he said. “If you can find the marginal farmland, I think it is an easier argument to make.”

Genesee County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens, speaking as a private citizen, said the Article 10 proposal flies in the face of recent comprehensive planning.

“Our county was one of the first counties to have a Smart Growth Plan and it has always been a leader in protecting farms. Now about 20 percent of the Town of Byron is being turned into a ‘glass field’ and several thousand acres of prime farmlands are being taken out of service,” Hens said.

“I think once folks realize the magnitude and appearance of this project they will be shocked and upset. Pretty soon this area will just be one big battery for New York City.”

Click here for a related story -- solar farm proposal in the Town of Florida (NY).

lamkin_1.jpg

Top photo -- Jim Lamkin stands across the street from his Ivison Road, Byron home, in front of a field designated for solar panels. Bottom photo -- Lamkin holds the map of the Excelsior Solar Project. Photos by Mike Pettinella.

August 20, 2020 - 10:08am
posted by Press Release in news, Excelsior Energy Center, Town of Byron, solar energy.

Press release:

The community is cordially invited to attend a virtual open house on Monday, Aug. 31 with one-hour sessions at noon and 6 p.m. for the Excelsior Energy Project, a 280-megawatt solar energy generating facility with 20 megawatts of energy storage proposed in the Town of Byron.

Information about the project will be presented online and via phone. During the meeting, the Excelsior team and its subject matter experts will provide a project update and answer questions. Both sessions will include an update on the project, cover the same information, and follow the same format.

Two easy options for joining the Aug. 31, Virtual Open House:

By phone (line opens at 11:40 a.m. and 5:40 p.m.)

Call 1-866-807-9684, ask to “join the Excelsior Energy Project call.”

Online (allows you to view presentation)

Open your web browser. Go to:  services.choruscall.com/links/excelsior.html

Fill out contact information.

Click on the “Join Webcast” link.

August 18, 2020 - 4:14pm

In the 18 months since the announcement of a large scale, 280-megawatt Excelsior Solar Project in the Town of Byron, the principals involved have engaged in considerable posturing and legal maneuvering.

Excelsior Energy Center, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources LLC, based in Vero Beach, Fla., is proposing to construct 1,600- to 1,700-acre solar electric generating facility under Article 10 of the New York State Public Service Law.

The Article 10 law directs the NYS Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment in regard to construction and operation of solar project larger than 25 megawatts.

Four steps are part of the Article 10 process:

  • Public involvement program (informational meetings and open houses);
  • Preliminary scoping statement (details of the project);
  • Formal application to the siting board;
  • Siting board decision (to issue or deny the certificate).

About a year ago, the Byron Town Board hired an attorney to navigate the process.

Byron Town Supervisor Peter Yasses on Sunday said the board is taking a “neutral approach” as it updates its solar ordinance prior to Excelsior Energy’s submission of its final application to the state.

“We’re trying to get our zoning laws in place so that it won’t impact the people so much,” Yasses said.

The Byron Town Board’s next scheduled meeting is Sept. 26.

NextEra Closes in on Application Filing

Keddy Chandran, project manager for NextEra Energy Resources, today said his company is finalizing its formal application and expects to submit it by the end of September.

“We’re sort of nearing the end of that process after having incorporated the thoughts and input from various folks in the Town of Byron, residents, leadership and the planning board,” he said.

Chandran noted that NextEra recently distributed an informational mailer to residents that reveals “the status of the project, the conceptual map of the project layout and answers some general, frequently asked questions that we come across.”

Meanwhile, an opposition group of about 140 members known as Byron Association Against Solar secured legal counsel in an effort to, according to its website, “protest the large solar and wind projects that turn our valuable farmland into solar or wind projects that support New York City.”

Yasses said the proposed project has divided the community.

“It’s like the politics we’re seeing (at the national level) right now,” Yasses said. “Some people are for it and some people are against it. Some people are neutral. The people who are against it are strongly against it, and the people who are for it are strongly for it.”

The supervisor said he believes the system eventually will become a reality.

Yasses: There’s No Stopping It

“This is (Gov.) Andrew Cuomo’s pet project and we were told by the experts, our attorneys, that there is no stopping it,” he said. “It’s always good to have an opposition group, but it’s coming.”

Just last week, the siting board responded to a letter from BAAS attorneys objecting to Excelsior Energy’s desire to “forego the two open houses prior to filing its application, which are part of the company’s Public Involvement Plan.”

BAAS took the stance that Excelsior Energy should hold off on filing the formal application until after in-person open houses are conducted.

Per the letter, BAAS was “concerned that Excelsior is using COVID-19 as an excuse to deprive the public of the opportunity to learn about the project in person.”

“This action also serves to deprive Excelsior of the opportunity to understand all local concerns … which should play a prominent role in Excelsior’s proposals for studies necessary to quantify the environmental and economic impacts of the Project,” attorneys wrote.

The siting board ruled that the “public information sessions be held, but for protection of the public and participants that the sessions be conducted online” and that ample notice be given of the dates and times of the virtual sessions.

BAAS Wants an In-Person Meeting

Eric Zuber, a Byron Town council member and BAAS spokesperson, said the town board wasn’t informed about Excelsior Energy’s intentions until a couple hours before its Aug. 12th meeting.

“They put that notice out there at the 12th hour. They want to have a meeting by video; we really would like to have it an outside public place – at the rec hall or in the parking lot,” he said.

Acting on the siting board’s ruling, Chandran advised that two virtual open houses will take place on Aug. 31, with times to be announced. He and other members of the NextEra team will be on the available via the web platform.

Chandran said that although the solar project will consist of 1,600 to 1,700 acres, only about half of that area will be covered by solar panels.

“There’s road spacing in between (so) the actual impact is far less than that,” he said. “We have been working with the community tremendously over the past year, taking some of the concerns of the locality into account.”

Specifically, Chandran said major tree stands will not be disrupted – “keeping the rural character and landscape the same,” he noted – and that "some of those tree stands will be connected with game trails to allow free movement of wildlife between clusters of trees.” He also said that space will remain for snowmobile trails.

“We think that it’s a great layout for everybody,” he offered.

Zuber: The Science Points to ‘Harm’

Beyond that, Zuber, owner of a large dairy farm, said the project will “take away the best land in this town.”

“I see all the railroad cars filled with garbage being shipped from New York City through our area, to be dumped to the east, and now they want to take our land,” he said. “They’re treating us worse than they treated the (American) Indians.”

Zuber, said that “the science” shows that the project will do more harm than good.

“The governor is for renewable, but the sad thing is if you really look at the science, and get really in depth, this project is actually bad for climate change. It will make more carbon than what it will prevent,” he said.

“People don’t realize, the corn crop in America produces more oxygen than what the Amazon does. Taking the good land out of production, and then they want to put these solar panels on, they’re going to have to burn 20 percent of the electricity to boost the voltage high enough to push it down an antique line that was put in in 1956. Scientifically, the whole thing is a bad project.”

Zuber said BAAS supports the smaller solar farms that are cropping up in the area – those that supply energy to the local grid – but “it’s these big monstrous projects that want to take the very best ground and pump electricity 300 to 500 miles, it’s just ridiculous.”

He compared it to transporting water through a hose.

“The best way to describe it is that moving electricity is the same as moving water. If you run a three-quarter inch garden hose from here to New York City and try to pump water to New York City, there’s only one way that you can pump it through the garden hose and that’s by taking it to a tremendous amount of pressure,” he reasoned. “And that’s what voltage is. To push that electricity with that voltage that far, it’s absurd.”

‘Constructive, Respectful Conversation’

Chandran, when asked about the challenges dealing with those who oppose the project, said, “I wouldn’t say that they’re challenges.”

“We’re always engaging the community regardless of whether there is opposition or not. We have heard their concerns, just as we have listened to everybody’s concerns. So, I wouldn’t call it difficult. It’s just natural and we want to continue to have constructive, respectful conversation with them,” he said.

Zuber said BAAS is seeking professionals to conduct an agriculture impact study – the effects of taking “the best ground out of production.”

“Excelsior doesn’t want to look at agriculture at all. This thing is a job killer. For every man working on a dairy farm, there’s nine jobs down the line. We’re not going to milk cows in this town anymore; it’s going to cost 400 to 500 jobs,” he said.

Chandran disagreed with Zuber’s assessment, stating that the project will support around 70 farmworkers on the five or six farms that have entered into land leasing contracts with NextEra.

“In helping to diversify their income streams, we’re helping to insure their operations can continue into the future, and that supports their jobs. It’s a really good thing for them,” he said. “Also, this project will be creating a tremendous amount of jobs in the area, and generating revenue for the local economy. I don’t know where he is getting that information, (and) I’m not going to Mr. Zuber’s math on that.”

No Begrudging the Farmers

Zuber, however, said he doesn’t “begrudge” the farmers who have signed on.

“They’ve offered them a ton of money, so they’re going to be rich. It’s a business decision for them,” he said, mentioning that Starowitz, Yunker, L-Brooke, My-T-Acres and Leaton farms are the primary beneficiaries. “But if you talk to any other farmer besides those, they’re against it. But, I don’t begrudge them. Hell, we probably should have signed up, took the money and got out of town.”

Zuber also brought up a matter of $98,000 to be split between the town and BAAS in “intervenor funding” that has yet to be received by either party.

“We were supposed to get that money four months ago,” he said.

The Town of Byron and BAAS appealed to the siting board in late July via their attorneys to halt the solar project until the funds were distributed by New York State. The siting board, however, ruled against them, writing “there is no reason to believe that the funds will not ultimately be disbursed.”

“Unlike a delay in disbursement which can be cured, if the siting board ultimately approves the project, a delay could have a financial impact on the project’s revenues and earnings that could not be cured. Accordingly, the motions of BAAS and the Town are denied,” the siting board determined.

Intervenor Funds Total $378,000

Chandran said that Excelsior has posted $98,000 to fund the costs of local parties and municipalities during the pre-application phase, and the project will further post $280,000 to fund the costs to review the application and participate in the Article 10 proceeding.

“Half of the funds are reserved for municipalities, which includes Genesee County and the Town of Byron. The other half of the funds are open to be disbursed to local parties, including without limitation, supporters, opposition and municipalities,” Chandran explained. “Funds must be spent on efforts to contribute to an informed decision as to the appropriateness of the site and facility, and the funds must be made available on an equitable basis in a manner which facilitates broad public participation.”

Disbursement of the funds is controlled by the Department of Public Service and the State Comptroller, he said.

On a separate front, Town of Byron’s lawyers in late July wrote to the state Department of Public Service, arguing that they had concerns over 18 of about 40 stipulations of the project’s Final Scoping Statement.

According to the letter, the issues focus on Excelsior Energy’s compatibility with local laws and existing community character, visual impact, and effects on the farm economy and the town’s archeological resources.

“Byron is fully prepared to litigate any and all issues related to these and other concerns,” attorneys wrote. “Unfortunately, to date, Excelsior has shown little interest in working collaboratively with the town or its residents to address these issues.”

Chandran mentioned NextEra’s significant investment into the project and its sponsorship of organizations and events in the community.

“We are employing people all across the state to work on this project – surveys on the ground, engineering, analysis and a tremendous amount of effort goes into designing a project of this nature,” he said.

NextEra Supports Local Endeavors

Over the last year, NextEra has made several donations, including a $10,000 gift to the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department’s K-9 program and, just last week, a $3,000 gift to the Town of Byron for a fireworks show.

“It’s just the way that NextEra likes to do business … we love to get involved in the communities where we are,” Chandran said. “Personally, I tutored a number of middle school kids (last summer) during the Genesee County Business Education Alliance Math, Science, Technology Camp. I taught basics of electrical engineering, brought solar panel kits and walked them through a set of lab exercises. We ended up donating those kits to them.”

Chandran said that after the application is deemed compliant, the siting board has 12 months to render a decision.

“There are a lot of mini-steps in between. (It will be) several months after that until we’re able to break ground. The project is planned to be commercially operational in Q4 (the fourth quarter) of 2022,” he said.

Previously, Chandran acknowledged that NextEra is seeking a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) with the Genesee County Economic Development Center “to direct revenues beyond what the land generates in its current use.”

Jim Krencik, GCEDC director of Marketing & Communications, said his agency is “actively engaged on behalf of Genesee County and the Byron-Bergen School District, along with the Town of Byron, to negotiate a PILOT for the proposed Excelsior Solar project."

Chandran expressed his elation in bringing such a project to the Town of Byron.

“We’re excited to bring the benefits and more, including all the jobs it’s going to create and benefits to the locality,” he said. “We’re looking forward to continuing the conversation with everybody who would like to have one, including the residents of the Town of Byron, leadership and even the opposition.”

July 23, 2020 - 10:26am

The agenda for Wednesday’s Genesee County Legislature meeting at the Old County Courthouse featured 34 resolutions, with three of them catching the eye of former legislator John Sackett Jr. of Byron.

Addressing the board during the public comments portion of the meeting, Sackett provided brief commentary on a water district agreement with the Town of Bethany, the county’s annual financial support of Genesee Community College, and contracts with six schools for school resource officers.

Legislators approved an inter-municipal pact with the Town of Bethany that calls for the county to reimburse the town in the amount of $152,835 for 38 years.

The annual reimbursement, according to the resolution, represents the amortized cost of the $4.5 million in improvements being made by Town of Bethany Water District No. 5, enhancements that will benefit the county.

Sackett questioned this plan, and asked why the county didn't help "Byron Town Board members, past and present, who did their proprietary work on taxpayer-supported water projects?"

Prior to that, he said that during his tenure as a Genesee County legislator (1992-2001), he came up with a list of eight private companies that might be able to provide water to residents.

“No response, I’ll say it again, no response from the Genesee County water board,” he said. “What does that tell you? They were all appointed.”

Legislators voted to contribute $2,636,374 to Genesee Community College for the 2020-21 fiscal year. The college’s total budget is $38.1 million.

Sackett urged lawmakers to hold the line on employee raises, stating that the college “strokes its board members, using Downstate figures to justify raises.”

As previously reported on The Batavian, GCC leadership has instituted many cost-cutting measures to balance its budget, including a pay freeze approved by both collective bargaining units on the campus.

On the subject of school resource officers, Sackett called the contracts, which range from $85,000 to $102,000 for 10-12 months, a “waste of dollars, whoever pays.”

“If you really believe in safety in education, educate the school teachers in these school districts in the use of handguns – hidden with monthly training,” he said. “It would cost less and be much more effective.”

Genesee County has SRO agreements with Alexander, Pembroke, Oakfield-Alabama, Byron-Bergen, Pavilion and Genesee Valley Educational Partnership. The districts pay for the services of a sheriff’s deputy, with hourly rate, fringe benefits and insurance as the covered expenses.

Sackett, who just turned 92, served on the Byron Town Board for 20 years, including several years as supervisor.

In other action, legislators approved:

-- Acceptance of a $120,000 grant from the state Office of Children and Family Services to support medical services at the county’s Justice for Children Advocacy Center. The contract term runs from Oct. 1, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2022, meaning that the annual award is $60,000.

-- A consultant agreement for $617,000 with Fisher Associates of Rochester to provide preliminary engineering and final design work in connection with the planned 2023 replacement of the South Lyon Street bridge in the City of Batavia. The design work and right-of-way acquisition are expected to take 12 to 18 months.

-- Three resolutions for work at the Genesee County Airport – one to accept a Federal Aviation Administration grant of $172,335 for the demolition of an existing T-hangar, one to contract with C&S Engineers of Syracuse for construction observation and administration of the T-hangar demolition at a cost not to exceed $29,000, and one to contract with Telco Construction of Buffalo (general contractor) and Upstate Companies of Mt. Upton (electrical) to build a new T-hangar.

The Telco contract is not to exceed $745,700 and the Upstate contract is not to exceed $103,500. Funding for this project will come from state aid ($626,250) and county money ($218,750).

-- An amendment of the county’s shared services property tax savings plan, changing the date from 2019 to 2020. The plan, which explores ways to collaborate with towns, villages and neighboring counties to reduce costs, will be submitted to the Department of State, Genesee Association of Municipalities, and eight local school districts.

Previously: Jail project with Orleans County, City water upgrade, SROs top the list of Genesee's shared services plan

-- Acceptance of $76,700 from the state Board of Elections’ Cybersecurity Remediation Grant Program to help county election commissioners assess security vulnerabilities and develop an effective risk management strategy. The funding will cover the period of Dec. 21, 2019 through Dec. 31, 2021.

March 19, 2020 - 6:40pm
posted by Billie Owens in Town of Byron, news, COVID-19.

Public Notice

Change of policies in Town of Byron due the COVID-19: offices are closed to the public, however, the town clerk and essential employees will be there to assist you in any matters of the town. They are available via telephone or email.

If payments or other documents need to be dropped off, please use the drop box in the foyer. Any information about meetings or committees will be posted on the town’s website. Anyone without access to internet can call the office: 585-548-7123 and follow the prompts.

Also, all Town of Byron Court matters are on hold until further notice.

Peter N. Yasses, Supervisor

August 19, 2019 - 4:14pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Town of Byron, Excelsior Energy Center.

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Update: Aug. 19, 4 p.m.

Keddy Chandran, project director for NextEra Energy Resources, headquartered in Vero Beach, Fla., said he is working on an open house for Byron residents that will take place on Sept. 10 at a site to be determined.

Chandran said two sessions will be scheduled – from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 5 to 7 p.m.  He and other company representatives and solar experts will be on hand to provide details of the project and answer questions.

“We’ll be set up with our poster boards (to provide information),” said Chandran, adding that the company will be sending out mailers and posting ads to notify the public of the meeting place.

“We seek public involvement throughout the process,” he said. “It’s important to have a good relationship with the community.”

Chandran said NextEra Energy Resources said several factors led them to the Town of Byron, including available transmission lines, lack of environmental constraints, land favorable to solar and reaching agreements with land owners.

He said that his firm will be requesting a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes agreement) with the Genesee County Economic Development Center.

“In this way, we can direct revenues to the town, county and school district (providing) more (money) than what the land does in its current use,” he said.

He also hopes to forge a separate Host Community Benefit Agreement with the Town of Byron that would generate funds for sought-after local projects.

Chandran would not say how many farm owners have entered into contracts with his company and would not comment on the specifics of the lease agreements with the farmers. He did say that the projects are designed for a 30-year window.

As far as town and county input is concerned, Chandran said that the Town Board and Genesee County each could nominate one representative to serve on the Siting Board.

---------------

The Town of Byron is in the process of hiring an attorney as it waits for officials of Excelsior Energy Center LLC to schedule an informational meeting about a proposed 1,500- to 2,000-acre, 280-megawatt solar energy project.

Town Supervisor Roger Rouse today confirmed that the Town Board will be utilizing legal services as it navigates the details of the plan, which is being constructed under Article 10 of the state Public Service Law.

“This being an Article 10 (project), we really end up being on the outside workings of it,” said Rouse, who said he anticipates a presentation by the company soon, but didn’t know the exact date.

Last week, the board was advised by a civil engineer to seek legal counsel familiar with Article 10 and its many requirements.

According to information on the New York State Energy Research & Development Agency website, electric generating facilities larger than 25 megawatts are sited per the Article 10 law, which guides the NYS Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment (Siting Board) about authorizing construction and operation of major electric generating facilities.

The Article 10 process features four steps – public involvement program (informational meetings), preliminary scoping statement (details of the project), formal application to the Siting Board, and siting board decision (to issue or deny the certificate).

In April, Excelsior Energy Center, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources LLC, revealed that it hopes to have the solar farm operational by 2022. Construction is expected to take between nine and 12 months.

Excelsior’s website proposes that the solar array will create 300 to 350 jobs during construction, with the $40 million construction labor budget resulting in three to four full-time permanent jobs.

Through land agreements with town farm operators, it will support farms with 70 current employees while generating “millions in revenue to the county, town and school district to invest in infrastructure, additional services, and resources for residents.”

The solar farm also will feature a 20-megawatt/four-hour energy storage system that will charge exclusively off the solar array, according to the website.

Developers contend that the Town of Byron “possesses the critical elements required for a strong solar and energy storage project, including a strong solar resource; existing road infrastructure, access to transmission infrastructure, and available land in an area well-suited environmentally to host such a project.”

The Batavian left a message with an Excelsior Energy media relations representative this morning, seeking more information from someone close to the project.

November 6, 2017 - 3:00pm


Please vote for Roger V.V. Rouse for the Town of Byron Supervisor! Voting takes place at the Byron Town Hall on Tuesday, November 7th, 2017.

February 15, 2017 - 9:28pm
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Town of Byron.

Byron Town Supervisor Peter Yasses said he respects the wishes of the municipality’s residents, who voted down a proposal to build a new highway garage on Wednesday, but he didn’t hold back expressing his disappointment with the decision.

“The people have spoken, and I’m OK with it,” Yasses said in reference to a 250-145 vote that shot down town leadership’s bid to construct a slightly expanded steel structure to replace the current 60-year-old, six-bay block building next to the Town Hall on Route 237.

The $1.895 million project would have been paid by town taxpayers over 30 years, Yasses said, with the increase in the taxes (possibly up to $90 per year on a home assessed at $88,000) dependent upon whether any grants could have been obtained.

Yasses and a committee of town council members and employees had worked with the town engineer and an architect to come up with a plan that they believed was the best solution to replace the garage, which they deemed as “cramped, inadequate and unsafe.”

The supervisor previously stated that the highway department’s four full-time employees and one part-time employee work in a building that isn’t big enough to properly park its three 10-wheelers and one single-axle vehicles and its loader, and is saddled with safety issues.

Specifically, Yasses said the narrow width and low height of the current bays have forced workers to park vehicles sideways and put holes in the walls to make room for the plows. He also reported that the building’s heating and ventilation systems were faulty, and that windows and doors were deteriorating.

Yasses blamed the proposal’s defeat, in part, to “lies and scare tactics” spread by two vocal opponents, John Sackett Jr. and (former highway superintendent) George Heins.  Sackett and Heins were instrumental in getting enough signatures on a petition to force Wednesday's referendum.

The supervisor also said that the two men sent out letters and went door-to-door to persuade residents to vote against it.

“They used scare tactics, stating that it would double the tax (rate) and they were quoting stuff that no one knows yet, things that haven’t been agreed upon,” Yasses said.

Yasses said more than $6,000 was spent to develop the plan – which would increase the current building’s size from 40 by 113 square feet to 63 by 152 square feet with seven bays – and to conduct the public vote.

“The problem won’t go away,” Yasses said. “It has to get solved, but we’re not going to spend any more money on it this year.”

Heins, a 25-year highway department employee and superintendent for 12 of those years, said he understands that another building is needed but not “a $2 million barn with interest.”

“They can put up another one behind the current building – a three-bay barn for the longer 10-wheel trucks,” Heins said. “They can use the $400,000 that is in the reserve account.”

He cited other factors such as the town’s decreasing unexpended fund balance, uncertainty surrounding Genesee County’s sales tax negotiations with other municipalities, and a proposed $22 million bond to renovate Byron-Bergen Central School as ample reasons for residents to be concerned over a tax increase for a new highway garage.

“We’ve been trying to do something about the garage for years, but tearing it down is not the answer,” he said.

January 28, 2017 - 8:31am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Town of Byron.

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As he prepares for a second public informational meeting early next month, Byron Town Supervisor Peter Yasses says he is optimistic that residents will vote in favor of the construction of a new highway garage on Route 237, a proposed $1.895 million project that he believes is long overdue.

“We’ve kicked the can down the road for much too long,” Yasses said on Friday as he pointed out what he sees as the “cramped, inadequate and unsafe conditions” at the current six-bay, block building that was built in 1957. “This was first talked about in 1974, and here we are over 40 years later.”

Yasses said the town’s four full-time employees and one part-time employee in the Highway Department are working in a building that isn’t big enough to properly park its three 10-wheelers, one single-axle vehicle and its loader and, more importantly, is riddled with safety issues.

Part of a committee of six people who have researched the situation, Yasses said architects and engineers advised that the only route to go is to demolish about 80 percent of the structure – converting the loader bay into office and break room space – and erecting a slightly larger steel building.

The current building’s dimensions are about 40- by 113-feet; the new building would measure 63- by 152-feet and have seven bays – four for trucks, one for the loader, a spare bay and one for maintenance and repairs.

The purchase of a small crane for lifting and assisting in equipment repair also is part of the project, which will have tax implications – the specific amount undetermined due to grant applications that are pending, Yasses said.

He did estimate that the taxpayer would be looking at an increase of $5 to $6 per month based on a house assessed between $88,000 and $100,000.

“The Town Board understands that the project is costly, however, interest rates are at an all-time low – costs are increasing yearly – and the town cannot afford to wait,” Yasses said.

The supervisor outlined a lengthy list of reasons to take action at this time, including the narrow width and low height of the current bays (which have forced workers to park vehicles sideways and put holes in the walls to make room for the plows), inadequate heating and ventilation, deteriorating windows and doors, and building code violations.

“It’s energy inefficient. The warmest it gets in there is 55 degrees and it’s not compliant with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), but the number one reason is the safety of our employees,” Yasses said. “The building is unsafe.”

The new building would have heated floors -- which will help the plow trucks dry out in the winter -- and radiant heat in the ceiling.

Yasses said the committee has been working with Town Engineer Paul Chatfield’s firm and Wolfe Architecture of Honeoye Falls.

A public PowerPoint presentation is scheduled for 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 9 at the Town Hall, 7028 Route 237 – next door to the highway garage. A permissive referendum vote is scheduled from noon to 8 p.m. on Feb. 15 at the Town Hall. All town residents age 18 and over are eligible to vote, Yasses said, as long as they show proof of residency.

Other committee members are David Starowitz, a retired town employee; Jack Reddick, a past Town Board member; Brian Forsyth, highway superintendent; Bill Kennett, current town employee; and Town Councilman Jeff Thompson.

Yasses said if the project passes, he expects the building to be taken down this spring and completed by mid-November at the latest.

Photos -- Top, inside of Town of Byron highway garage on Route 237; Middle, Byron Town Supervisor and employee Todd Cargill pointing to scrapes on the bay opening caused by vehicles getting in and out of the building; Bottom, hole in back wall of garage needed to make room for plow blade. Photos by Mike Pettinella.

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