ENFIELD, N.Y.—On Wednesday, July 13, the Enfield Town Board heard a presentation on a proposed solar farm on Podunk Road.
Will Bliss and Wendy De Wolf, respectively the director of engineering and co-founder of renewable energy company East Light Partners, presented to the board. They were aware of the town being under a solar moratorium due to updating its laws and wanted to meet with the board to discuss their project and the status of the town’s moratorium.
“We’re really focused on working with communities to develop best-in-class projects that are welcome within the towns and communities that are hosting them,” Bliss said, “so we try to establish communication early on in the development process, and that’s why we’re here tonight.”
The project will be no more than 5 megawatts, and while Bliss said it might be less than that amount depending on how much power the utility companies can accept, there is no possibility of the project exceeding 5 megawatts. Residents will be able to subscribe to the solar power system for credits on their energy bills.
The project will cover approximately 30 acres, although Bliss does not have an established footprint of the project at this early stage in the development, since East Light Partners needs feedback from utility companies first. He said the site was chosen so that the project would have minimal impact on the land, as it was flat, had hedge rows surrounding it and did not have prime farmland resources.
Bliss said that because of the town moratorium, he planned for the project to be permitted locally through the town’s planning board. According to him, East Light Partners, which has developed about 15 projects in New York State, is familiar with the SEQR review process and they have reviewed the supplemental requirements for large-scale solar in Enfield.
Over the past two months, East Light Partners has worked with NYSEG to get the project to the interconnection stage, the second of five stages. In the schedule Bliss showed, permitting is projected in the fall of 2022 after initial project studies are complete, financing and Notice-To-Proceed are expected in the spring of 2023, and construction is anticipated to beign in the summer and fall of 2023, with a commercial operation date of 2024.
“Hopefully, that will coincide with around when the moratorium is lifted for the project,” Bliss said about when the study results come back and East Light Partners submits their permit application to the town.
Bliss addressed some common concerns with solar projects. According to his presentation, solar arrays are no more than eight feet above the ground and are made of glass that absorbs light, rather than reflecting it. He also asserted that solar projects help lower energy prices by generating surplus energy that can be used during times of high demand, and can bring in tax revenue through PILOT agreements with tax jurisdictions.
Robert Lynch, a member of the board, asked Bliss if East Light Partners had the electrical capacity to handle the project. He cited a solar farm that the board had approved last year, which was planned to be 20 megawatts but was downscaled to 15 megawatts due to NYSEG’s capacity being limited, noting that the amount Bliss proposed was the same as the difference between the proposed and actual capacity. In response, Bliss reiterated that he would not submit a proposal until he had the study results and knew the project was feasible.
Jude Lemke, a member of the board, announced that the board is currently weighing whether to opt in or out of New York Real Tax Property Law Section 487. Towns that opt out of Section 487 are unable to negotiate or enter into a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, agreement.
De Wolf said she would prefer not to have to go to the IDA for approval of solar projects, but she has no other choice in communities that have opted out.
“We’ve seen a lot of misconceptions around what works and what doesn’t, and projects not be able to move forward, including our own, if people and communities opt out of 487, because communities are out of the conversation,” De Wolf said. “Of course, the host-community agreement makes sense, but I would say, if you want to be in the conversation, you stay in the 487.”
Lynch expressed his hope that once the moratorium ends, the town will be able to make its own decisions regarding solar power.
“We want more say,” Lynch said, “we want to sit at the table, and if there’s a PILOT that has to be negotiated, we want to negotiate it, not have it done downtown.”
De Wolf claimed that entering into a PILOT agreement under Section 487 would not involve the IDA, but would allow all relevant parties to be a part of the conversation about solar power.
“Everyone has a say in what the PILOT is, not the IDA, if you do it under 487,” De Wolf said.
Enfield Supervisor Stephanie Redmond said that the town is not in dire need of a solar farm, as while the world needs renewable energy, East Light Partners isn’t the only company that can bring solar to Enfield.
“We have so many solar farms coming here and wanting to develop on our properties that we will go to the next solar company that actually wants to pay their dues to have a project here,” Redmond said.
The discussion ended without any decision being made Lemke gave Bliss and De Wolf her phone number and invited them to reach out to her to continue the conversation offline. De Wolf reiterated her point that staying in Section 487 would be for the best.
“Regardless of whether I continue my project or not- as Robert said, we don’t know whether we can have it officially connected to the grid- as someone who’s done a lot of these projects, the best way for towns to be at the table in dealing with taxation of projects is not to opt out of 487,” De Wolf said.