W ith the question of where answered, the next one is: how much?
About 40 people turned out last Tuesday for two open houses and an update on NextEra Energy’s plan to build a 50-megawatt solar project in the Town of Sharon.
State review of the proposal will likely kick off in November.
Developers looked at 1,313 acres of possible sites along Route 20 for the 352-acre project; Tuesday, neighbors got their first look at the three sites they settled on:
• Along Beech Road to Sakon Road, south of Route 20.
• Both sides of Empie Road at the Gilbert’s Corners Road end, north of Route 20.
• Behind MacFadden & Sons, also north of Route 20.
NextEra Project Developer Kris Scornavacca said Tuesday that they listened to concerns from both the Town of Sharon and neighbors who wanted the project kept off Route 20, a Scenic Byway and the gateway to the Village of Sharon Springs.
“That wasn’t easy,” Mr. Scornavacca said, in part because NextEra has to be able to connect the three parcels that will make up the project to the existing National Grid substation along Route 20.
“We worked very hard to come up with a design that makes sense for everyone involved. But in our minds, this is our final project that we want to submit,” to the State Public Service Commission’s Siting Board for Article 10 review by September 12.
“This is our final design.”
Bill Boer, NextEra’s environmental manager, said the panels will be screened with a mixture of trees and shrubs—they’ll be a minimum of five feet when planted; the placement also takes advantage of natural topography to screen the project, he said.
Once the application’s filed, the PSC will have 60 days to ask questions or for additional information, but once the application is deemed complete, Mr. Scornavacca said the clock starts ticking on a SEQRA-like review of NextEra’s proposal by the PSC’s Siting Board, which has final say on whether it can be built.
“We remain committed,” to the project,” Mr. Scornavacca said, and he’s confident NextEra and the team negotiating a PILOT—payment in lieu of taxes—can come to an agreement.
The local PILOT team—Sharon Springs Central School Business Manager Tony DiPace, Sharon Supervisor Sandy Manko, and Schoharie County rep Phil Skowfoe of Fulton?
Not so much.
“We’ve met a few times, but right now, we don’t have any other meetings scheduled,” Mr. DiPace said.
And if there’s no agreement, NextEra will have to pay full taxes on the project based on construction costs.
Officials have declined to discuss what that figure is, but estimates have put it at $50 million to even $90 million.
“I think in the end, we’ll get to a number we can agree on,” Mr. DiPace, who’s leading the PILOT talks, said afterwards. “But right now, we’re not even close.
“It’s not our intent to make them pay full taxes—no one wants to get involved in tons and tons of legal fees,” with the inevitable legal challenge to that, “but we’re not going to just roll over either. We owe it to our taxpayers to get something fair. We’re willing to walk away from the numbers they’re floating.”
Mr. DiPace said the Town of Sharon already has an established formula for commercial solar that’s based on megawatt hours.
“That’s the number we’re looking for,” he said.