PHILADELPHIA — US Light Energy provided a presentation to the Indian River Board of Education recently regarding a proposed PILOT, payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement, for a community solar facility it is building for the benefit of the Tri-County Energy Cooperative.
On Thursday night, during its regularly scheduled meeting, the board discussed the proposal and questions it would like answered before a decision is made.
In 2017, US Light Energy was selected to construct eight megawatts of solar generating capacity for the benefit of the Tri-County Energy Cooperative and its 29 school district and municipal members. A megawatt is a unit of electrical power equal to one million watts.
The Tri-County Consortium Project is an 8 MW solar project, which will be built as four 2 MW units at 31589 Route 11 in the town of Philadelphia; what is currently a large, grassy field near Cross Garage and Maple Lane Farm. US Light would be tenant operators on this property. According to US Light, the Tri-County Consortium Project will reduce energy costs to the consortium members, reduce electrical stress on the grid and improve operational benefits, ultimately saving money for all ratepayers.
Business manager Audrey Stevenson, based on publicly available information and her understanding of where the solar field is located, said that what she understands to be the property, or at least 4/5 of the property, paid $65.12 in school taxes for the 2020-21 year.
It appears that assessments were $12,300 and $8,500 totaling $20,800 for the ‘20-21 school year and are now tentatively valued at $240,000.
“You can see the offered PILOT is significantly more than we have been receiving and than we would receive on the tentative increased assessments,” Ms. Stevenson said in her report for the board. “As the project is not yet complete it is assumed the assessed value of the properties will increase. It appears that solar project payments in lieu of taxes are typically based on the fields’ megawatts and from the information above as well as additional research, the US Light Energy proposal is well within the normal range and actually above the NYSERDA average when comparing the total tax liability, not just the school portion.”
According to Ms. Stevenson, if the district uses the $994,000 total assessment value that is present for the NEXAMP projects, the final assessed value for this project would be $7,952,000, which theoretically could generate about $25,000 per year in school taxes.
In regard to prior PILOTs, Ms. Stevenson said she was only able to find a few proposals for housing PILOTS during the 2006-2014 timeframes. Given that it requires research through paper minutes, this will be a very slow research project. The most current proposal she saw, from 2014, was for three years proposing a PILOT that was for 50% of the full expected tax levy.
US Light Energy is a New York-based solar energy development company located in Latham. The company specializes in community solar facilities and renewable energy solutions for residential, commercial, and municipal customers. According to US Light, this collaboration will directly contribute to New York’s mandate to achieve 70% of the state’s electricity supply from renewable energy sources by 2035. That proposal also aims to increase the amount of solar deployment to 6,000 MW by 2025.
Some questions that came about after the US Light Energy presentation to the board were if the town or county had accepted any PILOT proposals and if so, under what terms; how this PILOT request would affect the tax levy; and if the PILOT request would benefit the Indian River Central School District. Board members also asked questions regarding whether other schools and towns are facing the same decision of whether or not to accept the PILOT request and what the recommendation of the administration concerning this and future PILOT requests is.
“If the Board had approved the US Light Energy PILOT proposal in February 2021 and it had been a part of our tax cap calculation, the tax levy limit that was 13.9% would have been 13.6%,” Ms. Stevenson said in her report. “It is important for the board to understand that there is no urgency for a decision on this PILOT in May. The tax status of a property on March 1st is how they are taxed for the coming year. Given that we have already passed March 1st, I suggest we continue to gather all of the necessary information in the month of May so that in future meetings all questions can be addressed and the Board can reach a decision.”
The board will continue to consider the PILOT proposal and gather information and answers before reaching a final decision.