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Shelby’s proposed solar energy law isn’t competitive with other towns, and would chase away solar projects

Posted 23 October 2018 at 10:06 am

Editor:

The Town of Shelby held a public hearing on Oct. 9 for a newly-proposed solar law. A Local Law Regulating Solar Energy Systems reads like fairly utilitarian legislation, but two sentences on the last page reveal the town is “opting out” of the New York State Real Property Tax Law (RPTL) section 487 exemption, removing any incentive solar providers may have to locate in Shelby.

So, contrary to its stated purpose – to properly regulate solar energy so as to provide a readily available and renewable energy source beneficial to the Town of Shelby – this proposed law would render Shelby non-competitive for hosting solar energy facilities.

Unlike officials in the nearby Town of Yates, Shelby officials never assault the airwaves with persistent public man-trums on local zoning matters. Which is how the Town of Shelby is quietly becoming a sleeper cell of over-regulation.

Between the 28 technology, commercial and industrial bans included in both Local Law 3 and Local Law 5, segregated zoning laws the Shelby Town Board unanimously enacted without providing proper notice to the public in 2017, this latest zoning proposal will certainly cement Shelby’s development status in the region as Orleans County’s BANANA:

Build

Absolutely

Nothing

Anywhere

Near

Anyone

RPTL §487 provides a tax exemption for qualifying solar, wind and other alternative energy sources for a period of 15 years as an incentive for their development. The property is exempt from taxes on the increased value owing to the alternative energy installation. For example, if a property is valued at $1,000 before the installation of a solar array and is valued at $5,000 after the array is installed, the solar provider would be exempt from taxes on the $4,000 increase for the first 15 years of operation.

Despite the exemption, a town can require that an energy provider enter into a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreement with the town for annual payments in some amount less than what the taxes would be – a negotiated agreement between the town and the energy provider.  In that way, the provider still has an incentive to locate in the town (because it would be paying less than it would in taxes), but the town is not left without any revenue benefit from the installation (because it would be receiving PILOT payments).

A town may also “opt out” of the RPTL tax exemption – that is, it may require that any provider locating within its borders to pay taxes on the total value of the property with the solar installation on it. In doing this, the town effectively removes any incentive solar providers may have to want to locate in the town.

Yates has a solar regulatory law, but Yates did not “opt out” of the tax exemption. Ridgeway has a solar law that is virtually identical to Shelby’s 2018 proposed law, but Ridgeway did not “opt out.” As a result, solar providers are much more likely to locate in one of those neighboring towns in western Orleans County, rather than Shelby, to take advantage of the favorable tax treatment they would get in Yates or Ridgeway.

Shelby’s newly-proposed solar law is identical to Ridgeway’s solar law, and the town’s existing solar law is very similar to Yate’s solar law. These commonalities should not be lost on taxpayers. All three towns are currently or have been advised on renewable energy by Buffalo’s biggest law firm – Hodgson Russ LLP. If Shelby’s law was cribbed from legislation written for another town, taxpayers should get a discount for what is tantamount to two computer clicks – cut and paste.

This law, like two others developed by the same law firm which the town is currently defending in three New York Supreme Court lawsuits, conflicts with the town’s comprehensive plan. New York Town Law section 263 mandates local zoning laws must be made in accordance with a comprehensive plan.

In October 2017, the majority of those surveyed to update the Western Orleans Comprehensive Plan responded that “development and/or improvement of sustainable and efficient energy” in Shelby was “important” to them and property taxes were a paramount concern. This current law violates Town Law §263, defies the wishes of the public and ignores the stated goals of the comprehensive plan.

Enacting this law in its current form is a mistake and yet another regulatory measure that would have the effect of depriving Shelby’s citizens of opportunities that their neighbors in nearby towns have. Shelby’s legislation over the past 24 months shows officials more concerned with their individual agendas than cultivating projects and industries that will expand the tax base and ensure long-term sustainability.

Bans and overregulation are not the answer. Shelby should remove Section 4 “Solar Exemption Opt-Out” so citizens can compete on even footing with neighbors in Ridgeway & Yates for the siting of solar facilities on their property.

Andina E. Barone

Snyder

Mindful Media Group