Alongside public hearings on laws and amendments regarding solar energy in Dryden, the Dryden Town Board business meeting Dec. 15 began with a video presentation by Distributed Sun on its plans for solar energy systems on two sites within town limits.
The first site is near Willow Glenn cemetery on land that Bharath Srinivasan, senior vice president of operations for Distributed Sun, said is “not ag quality land.”
The second is in the Ellis Hollow area to the south of Rt. 366 in the Varna part of town on Cornell land.
The Washington, D.C. company is the same one that built the Cornell solar field near the Tompkins Ithaca Regional Airport in Lansing. It also has plans south of Ithaca, entering into a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement with the Town of Spencer Nov. 30 for seven solar arrays on four plots of land.
The four people who spoke were all in favor of bringing solar to Dryden in reference to a public hearing for a comprehensive plan change to include solar. It was also supported by supervisor Jason Leifer, who said it was a “win all around.”
“What we’re doing here in Dryden is a green, economic machine, honestly,” he said.
How much Dryden will choose to charge Distributed Sun was more the issue for the handful in attendance at the meeting than them actually coming to the town.
Under state law, both residential and commercial solar projects are exempt from property taxes, but individual municipalities and school districts can decide to opt out of the exemption and tax solar by entering into a PILOT agreement.
Srinivasan said on the conference call that the business has not had to negotiate a PILOT yet; all six others built have been tax-exempt.
“So we don’t yet have an idea” what the price point would be, he said.
Supervisor Jason Leifer asked Srinivasan directly a few moments later if they were still willing to come to Dryden even though it would have to negotiate a PILOT.
“That’s correct,” he said.
“I encourage you to tax it at full taxable value,” resident Don Scutt said during public comments.
“What you’re not understanding by saying that is then they won’t come,” councilperson Dan Lamb said.
Resident Joe Wilson followed up on Scutt’s thoughts, asking the board what level the properties are taxed at now and how much more or less a PILOT from a solar array can bring in comparison to that.
The Cornell land is not being taxed at all, making any income there positive, Leifer said.
The solar arrays would not be visible, Srinivasan said, and would installed 24 inches of the with a hammer or screwdriver and no concrete. It allows the company to remove the arrays with little to no impact at the end of a 30-year lease.
“We’ve designed the system so it’s easy to assemble and easy to disassemble as well,” he said.
Srinivasan said the timeline for the project is to begin in April 2017 and be done before the first snow, ideally Oct. 31. He said it would create 200-250 jobs locally and another 100 nationwide, presumably via construction work and upkeep.
A follow-up phone call to the company for more information was not returned.
He said in the conference call Distributed Sun would maintain the landscaping and brush and that for the last two years it has not had to use chemicals to keep the grass down. Instead it allows farmers’ sheep to graze on the land, which also “creates income for farmers.”
The company plans to provide residents within the zone to purchase power at a discounted rate.