I decided to detail this policy first because I feel it is the most urgent. In fact, even if I’m elected to a position on the legislature, it may be too late. At the last meeting of the County Planning and Economic Development Committee the members again failed to put forth a resolution to deny or limit PILOT tax abatement agreements for industrial solar projects. Despite further urging from concerned county residents during privilege of the floor, the committee members ignored the comments and carried on without discussion of a resolution in regards to industrial solar. It was a similar situation at the General Legislature meeting. Yet following the meeting, there was a “work session” with mostly vague discussion and information on “green” energy, utility dynamics, and energy industry and policy in general.
Industrial solar is coming on the heels of industrial wind as part of a massive subsidized “green” energy program run by New York State. County officials did little to halt or limit the wind projects in the Arkwright area of the North County. Besides some quick cash to a few landowners and well-connected local politicians what have been the benefits to county residents? Did our electric rates go down? Were residents lifted out of poverty by all the “economic development”? On the contrary, residents have been plagued with increased traffic, noise pollution, degradation of roadways, decreased property values and more recently a mudflow polluting nearby streams and wetlands.
All energy production and consumption has associated pollution and environmental impacts. Every energy industry has infrastructure which requires resources to produce and maintain. For example, a wind turbine must be manufactured from materials that are produced by other industries. A concrete base must be set which involves excavation and heavy equipment that consumes fuel. All the materials need to be transported then be installed and commissioned. How the electricity produced gets to the end user must also be considered. Miles of wires, transformers, battery storage all contribute to the overall environmental impact. A similar comparison could be made with a natural gas well, or crude oil well and refinery. The energy market in the US is a mess due to government manipulation in the forms of lopsided regulations, tax credits, abatements, and subsides. The ultimate solution is to remove all subsides and incentives as well as liability protections for energy producers. Such a system would allow market forces to drive production, prices, and development. Without liability protections energy companies would be responsible for compensating property owners for excessive pollution. In short, something as complicated energy production and distribution should be determined by a free market.
As a libertarian I am in favor of free markets and the rights of property owners to improve and develop with minimal regulation to protect neighboring properties. The issue at hand is the hyper-subsidized nature of wind and solar projects largely confounding the market forces that should determine if and where these projects should exist.
Industrial solar is already highly subsidized by federal and state incentives. The CCIDA, its socialist nature, and its poor performance are topics for another day, yet understanding its involvement in industrial solar in our county is important. Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency (CCIDA) should not further distort the cost-benefit analysis of these projects by entering into tax abatement agreements with industrial solar companies. At the November 2020 Chautauqua County Planning and Economic Development Committee Meeting, CCIDA CEO Mark Geise said he thinks a proposed Ripley solar project has a “razor-thin edge of profitability even with the PILOT.” If these projects are so fragile, why does the CCIDA think they’re worth a 30-year property tax abatement program? For those unfamiliar with Payment In Lieu of Taxes or PILOT agreements, it is essentially a large county property tax break. If granted to an industry, they pay very little property tax to the county initially and then pay proportionally more each year over a period of 15 to 30 years up. This may sound like harmless incentivizing of industry until you consider its effect on the overall tax base and budget situation. For example, a property is assessed at a certain value to where the county is collecting $10,000 of property taxes a year. A company buys the property and gets a PILOT agreement from the CCIDA for 30 years. The first year after the agreement, the county collects $0 of property taxes on the property. If the county doesn’t cut spending on its annual budget, that $10,000 falls on the backs of tax payers. The CCIDA gives out millions of dollars’ worth of tax breaks every year that we’re picking up the slack for. When these tax breaks run out businesses often leave the county or cut jobs to compensate. If a business moves out of a warehouse or manufacturing facility there is still value in the infrastructure. If a solar or wind company leaves without removing the turbines or panels, we may be left with a “green energy” wasteland in place of our rolling hills, farmlands, and forests.
Industrial solar has already gotten their foot in the door in terms of a PILOT agreement for a project in Hanover approved last November (https://www.post-journal.com/…/tax-breaks-okd-for…/). Late last year there was talk in the Planning and Economic Development Committee of a resolution limiting PILOT agreements for industrial solar. The committee ultimately decided not to put forth a resolution similar to the no-PILOT for industrial wind and continue to gather information on industrial solar. There have been numerous comments from residents mostly calling for a no-PILOT resolution that have been largely ignored by the committee in 2021. The full Legislature has been silent and inactive as well.
If elected I will strongly encourage action in the Planning and Economic Development Committee in terms of putting forth a no PILOT resolution. If possible, I would also encourage the full Legislature to put forth a similar resolution if the Planning Committee fails to act. As I stated previously, by January 2022 it may be too late. In the mean time I encourage you to contact your District County Legislator in regards to industrial solar as well as reaching out to those on the Planning and Economic Development Committee. They are, Mark Odell, Chair Modell2@stny.rr.com (716) 792-6577; Christine Starks, Vice Chair email@example.com (716) 338-2435; Kevin Muldowney firstname.lastname@example.org (716) 680-2207; Tom Harmon email@example.com (716) 908-7800; Bill Ward firstname.lastname@example.org (716) 753-2800. Mark Geise is the CEO of the CCIDA and would be a good person to contact on this issue as well GeiseM@co.chautauqua.ny.us (716) 661-8900.