A month after sPower presented to the Lansing Town Council its solar project on a portion of the site of the now-deactivated Cayuga Power Plant, the council met virtually on Oct. 7 to listen to a proposal for another solar project that would also hope to utilize the power lines of the power plant. When all was said and done, the council voted to write letters of support for both projects to the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA).
sPower is proposing to build a large-scale solar project on the usable parts of the 400-acre property that sited the power plant as well as negotiate with NYSEG to either rent or purchase the farmland section of its Bell Station property. The solar array would take up a maximum of 1,400 acres and would generate between 100 and 200 megawatts depending on how much land the company acquires.
This past Wednesday, Mitch Quine, project developer for CS Energy, presented the Yellow Barn Solar Energy Facility to the Town Council, a project projected to generate 160 megawatts and encompass between 1,000 to 1,300 acres of land between Lansing and Groton. The interconnection point would be located near the border of both municipalities at Van Ostrand and Buck Roads.
During the presentation, Quine said the company would likely either lease or buy a minimum of 250 acres and a maximum of 600 acres in Lansing for the project. If leased, CS Energy would have control over the land for 25 years with a potential extension upwards of 40 years. The overall lifespan of the project would be about 30 years.
“Our assumption right now is it’s going to end up a fairly even 50-50 split between 500 to 600 acres in Lansing 500 to 600 acres in Groton,” Quine said. “But again, that’s a little up in the air.”
Quine also said the project has garnered interest among farmers and residents who currently own land that the company is seeking to rent or buy.
“We’re definitely getting some traction with both some farmers and with folks that have – though I think it’s less common on the Lansing side – folks that have unused or forested land,” he said. “I think it’s a lucrative opportunity, especially for folks that maybe just want to use a portion of their land as supplemental income. We work with a few new people who are showing us the areas that they think would be good for solar, but some areas where they want to keep to farmland.”
The Yellow Barn Solar Energy Facility presents multiple benefit options for town residents. One of the benefits could be a discount or credit on residential customers’ utility bills. (Quine said the details of this benefit are still being refined by the Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES).) The other possibilities are a host-community agreement or a direct agreement between the applicant and municipality for things such as per-megawatt payment based on the size of the system.
“In terms with the direct agreement with the municipality, there’s actually a couple of sources of revenue that come into the town as a part of these projects,” Quine said. “The first is the Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT), which we would be negotiating with the IDA. … The revenue from that PILOT, the portion of that that goes to the town is the town’s tax split, so not a massive portion obviously; a good portion of that goes to the school district and county. The second source of revenue is going to be this host-community agreement that we would hope to negotiate ideally on a dollar-per-megawatt basis, but we’ve also negotiated upfront payments to deal with if there’s an immediate budget crisis, we can pay upfront payments. There are also public works that we’ve gotten involved in – donating our construction equipment, our construction supervisor’s time to install, whether it be a public park or something like that, we’re happy to work on that.”
“The third source of revenue that comes into the town as a result of these projects is that where we do end up siting on – on [agricultural] land – we … either reduce or take out that parcel from its agricultural assessment and we pay for that increase in the taxes,” he said.
Town Supervisor Edward LaVigne asked whether or not CS Energy would be willing to negotiate business incentives for current and future business to use other sources of power, to which Quine said yes.
“We’ve been creative in the past; we’ve been able to come up with some kind of interesting new agreements,” Quine said. “Basically, anything that the two willing parties are able to contract they can do, right? If it turned into us making payments to the town directly to say a fund the town would have available to incentivize businesses, we can be making payments to that kind of fund. Or we could be making payments, splitting that payment among people within a certain radius of the project, or whatever we determine is going to be the best way to go about it, like I said, we’re willing to be creative. We’re not hamstrung or we don’t have our hands tied in terms of ‘we need to do it this particular way.’ We’re eager to make things work.”
Prior to voting on the resolution for the support of the sPower project, Councilman Joseph Wetmore requested that the council include information on the environmental impacts of the project. LaVigne then asked if Wetmore would recuse himself from the vote since there may be a conflict of interest in that Wetmore’s significant other is a member of one of the town committees that brought the resolution to the council and now he wants to make a change to it. Wetmore said he does not see any conflict of interest in what LaVigne described.
The council eventually voted unanimously to pass the resolution as it is. It also voted unanimously to pass the resolution in support of CS Energy’s project.