“We kind of protected ourselves when we opted out,” said Supervisor John Valk. “We’ve let the dust settle and now we’ll make a decision.”
On Thursday, Dan Leary, attorney for NY Solar 1000, asked the Shawangunk Town Board to reconsider its decision against PILOTs for solar energy projects.
A payment in lieu of tax (PILOT) agreement typically means the property owner pays a fraction of the assessment and as time passes, the payment is increased incrementally until by the end of the period it’s back to the full assessment.
In 2018, the town of Shawangunk opted out of the real property tax exemption that would allow for PILOT agreements with solar energy projects. According to the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance, the town was joined by numerous other towns including Gardiner, as well as the Wallkill, Valley Central and Pine Bush School Districts.
In December, NY Solar 1000 was granted conditional approval by the town’s planning board for a 2.5 megawatt solar project to be located on Route 52, west of New Prospect Road. Leary is now hoping the town board will consider a PILOT agreement for the project.
“We are honoring the town’s vision with the desire for community solar,” said Leary. “This is not a full scale project that is just going to run into the grid, it’s going to be something that the community can take advantage of.”
Leary explained that a preference will be given to town residents in the form of credits, as directed in the town’s code.
“The reality is that these community solar projects have a fragility to them financially at the beginning of the process, so it is very helpful…to have this PILOT agreement,” said Leary.
Another representative explained that the variability of taxes each year makes the project unattractive to investors. He assured the board that their focus was not so much to lower the taxes, but to get a fixed amount to plug into their financial model.
Planning Board Chairman Mark Watkins said that in his opinion, the company was “trying to make it look more profitable to an investor, at the expense of the taxpayers.”
Town Councilman Matthew Watkins questioned the alleged risk to investors, pointing out that the electricity they will generate starting day one—the project is not phased—will be automatically purchased by electric companies. He expressed misgivings for granting a PILOT to a solar company that would see immediate guaranteed income when the town board couldn’t give the same benefit to an individual trying to open a small business in the town.
“I think it’s a good idea, I do, but I have to look at other business people in this community that want to do something,” said Watkins.
Supervisor Valk plans to have a meeting with the New York Solar 1000 representatives, a town board member and the town’s assessor. Leary is to provide samples of agreements done with other communities in advance of the meeting.
The solar developer also plans to pursue PILOT agreements with the school district and Ulster County, depending on how things proceed with the town.
Valk explained that should the board decide to opt in, it would only allow for the standard process for a PILOT, it would not mean that the solar company would be granted a PILOT. It would have to go through the same approval process as any other application.
“We’ll see,” said Valk. “We’ve got to weigh the benefits of PILOTs versus taxes and what is going to benefit the town.”
Joseph DeGroodt also approached the board during the meeting, looking to “clear the air” about the recent issues with his barn at the Christmas Tree Farm. Events at the barn were shut down by the town after neighbors complained, as it was never approved for that use.
DeGroodt stated he felt the concerns voiced by his neighbors was “a lot of slander” as he said that it has just been “crickets” since he was married there on Sept. 21. He provided letters from charities to the town board, along with a petition with about 500 signatures on his behalf.
Events cannot resume at the barn unless the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals changes the zoning for the property. The property does not currently appear on the board’s agenda for Feb. 19.