The Groton Town Council discussed an application for a preliminary site plan/special permit review for a solar array project at a meeting Sept. 10.
The “Groton Solar Array” project was submitted by Abundant Solar Power, Inc. on Aug. 27. According to the application, the plan would be to install a “large-scale green energy solar array” of five megawatts on 704 Cortland Rd. that is “approximately 40.3 acres of land to provide clean energy under the NYSERDA NY-Sun initiative.”
Civil engineer Dan Brocht was in attendance at the meeting, representing Abundant Solar Power and answering any questions the Town Council may have on the project.
“There’s various stages that go along the way towards approval…the first step is to introduce the project to the board, to get a letter supporting the PILOT program to take input from the board and the town staff and incorporate that into our drawings, into our project models,” Brocht said. “Then, submit it for a special use permit for a site plan approval.”
The Town council mainly had questions regarding the PILOT (Payment-In-Lieu-Of-Taxes) program. Several of the councilpersons were not ready to sign a letter of support for the program because there was no information about the program included in the application. Brocht offered an explanation of the program.
“For this site, Abundant [Solar Power] will do $5,000 towards the PILOT program per megawatt,” he said. “In other words, this project is based on five megawatts, so we’re looking at about approximately $25,000 devoted to the PILOT program that would be distributed to the county, the town, the fire department, the school.”
Councilman Brian Klumpp asked Brocht if he knew what the appraised value of the property would be when the construction of the solar array is completed, but Brocht said he was unsure that number would be.
“I think there’s two distinctive parts to this project that are, at least in my mind, more or less unrelated: the PILOT program and convincing us that there’s a reason to do that, and the actual site plan,” Klumpp said.
With the PILOT program, the town would receive a greater benefit than what the property from the proposed project currently provides, though Klumpp said he was skeptical as to how that would immediately benefit the town.
“Basically, anybody that comes into town and builds a new house [and] improves that property is going to pay more in taxes than what’s being paid now,” he said. “But they’re not allowed to come to the board and say, ‘We’re going to build this $325,000 house, but we only want to pay what a house for $125,000 would be.’ We’re still paying more than that empty field.”
Town Attorney Fran Casullo said that before the Town Council makes any decisions regarding the PILOT program, it should have some physical documents outlining the specifics of the program, which were not included in the application to the town. A document about the program was tendered to the town back in March, but the Town Council is unsure whether or not that is still the same program that is being offered presently.
“Shouldn’t we have something tangible in writing as to the PILOT program for this particular project before we go give or consider a letter in support,” Casullo said. “If you’re going to be asked to consider approving of a PILOT program, someone could at least give you the parameters of what the PILOT program is, right?”
The Town Council decided to table the discussion regarding the application until it received further information about the PILOT program.