DUANESBURG — Critics of a proposed solar farm have been granted a two-week reprieve to study a proposed payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement to be executed with the developer.
The town board voted on Thursday to postpone a vote on the deal until Jan. 9 after getting an earful from local residents contending the project will harm their property values and has been shrouded in secrecy.
“The town cannot in good conscience approve that document,” said Wallace Johnson. “We just haven’t had any time to spend time looking at this.”
Duanesburg Central School District took the lead on hashing out the agreement, known as a PILOT, with the Troy-based Eden Renewables.
Since the county opted out, the arrangement will be a 50-50 split, which is unusual, town officials said, because typically school districts receive a larger cut.
“This is a more advantageous split generally afforded to the town,” said Terresa Bakner, town attorney.
Town Supervisor Roger Tidball estimated the deal would generate $150,000 over a 15-year period. Payments would begin at $8,125 in 2021 and increase 2 percent annually.
Funds will only be allocated if the project moves forward.
“If project is not built, the PILOT has no meaning whatsoever,” Bakner said.
Town Councilman Charles Leoni was the lone dissenting voice against delaying the vote.
“Everything we do can be undone,” he said.
Eden Renewables received site plan approval from town planners in September to build two five-megawatt solar arrays on a 40-acre site on Duanesburg Road.
Yet, the project has been met with opposition from a handful of residents who live near the proposed location who fear a solar farm will negatively impact their property values and carry additional long-term impacts.
Johnson owns 71 acres near the site and said the farm wouldn’t be adequately screened and would have a negative visual impact.
“It’s going to take a real hit on our property values,” he said.
Oak Hill Road resident Bill Park cited inaccuracies in planning documents, noting there are buildings on the site despite maps showing otherwise.
“We should straighten out the ordinance and fix the problems,” Park said.
Lynne Bruning and her mother, Susan Biggs, have filed a lawsuit seeking to annul the town Planning Board’s approval.
Their lawsuit contends the town failed to comply with the procedural requirements for site plan review and with standards for special-use permits as required by the town’s zoning ordinance and solar law.
The land borders her family property on Duanesburg Road, and shares a 2,500-foot property boundary with the two Oak Hill solar plants.
Bruning lives 650 feet away from the site, and harbors concerns over stormwater runoff (and if pesticide will run onto her property) and current plans for emergency access roads, which she believes may not be cleared in the winter to accommodate first responders.
“This impacts my health and my property,” Bruning said.
Bruning said her mother’s concerns were ignited in July when Eden Renewables presented a depiction of the project site at a public hearing that omitted her residence and barns.
Eden Renewables and landowner Richard B. Murray have denied all allegations in their formal response to the lawsuit, which hasn’t yet gone before a judge, Bakner said.
Several attendees at the meeting on Thursday also questioned why two provisions were “intentionally omitted” between drafts of the PILOT agreement, which was based on a model agreement issued by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
The reason, Bakner said, is because those items would be inaccurate representations the town would be making.
One item pertained to lawsuits. Since there is ongoing litigation against the project, keeping that provision would be inaccurate, she said.
The other stated government approval would not be required for the execution of the agreement.
But that’s also inaccurate, Bakner said, because the town opted to approve the PILOT by resolution.
In response to the concerns raised by residents, the town is weighing a six-month moratorium on new solar projects.
A vote is scheduled for Jan. 9.
A moratorium wouldn’t affect Eden Renewables since the project has already received approval. However, the temporary ban would give town officials time to look at questions not addressed in the town’s 2016 solar energy law, including how to guarantee there will be money for decommissioning solar arrays at the end of their useful life, and how to address concerns residents have raised about the size and density of commercial-scale solar facilities.
Tidball said there are no applications for solar farms pending, and he expected the legislation eventually to be approved.
Duanesburg currently has one large-scale solar project near Duanesburg High School.
In addition to the Eden Renewables project, Tidball said there was a project approved about three years ago, but the developer never pursued it.
While there has been additional interest from additional developers, National Grid’s infrastructure is already at capacity and the energy provider would be unable to support the distribution of power generated from another large solar facility, the supervisor said.
Grid infrastructure issues caused the town to drop plans to install solar panels at the former town landfill as part of a Schenectady County solar initiative.
“It will take National Grid several years to upgrade their system,” Tidball said.
The town Planning Board is already expected to review the solar ordinance as part of a comprehensive plan review, Tidball said, and that work can happen while the moratorium is in place.
Despite approval of the Eden project — and the postponement of the PILOT vote — residents indicated they will continue to seek accountability.
“I’m going to continue to fight this project until something happens,” Johnson said.
The Duanesburg Town Board next meets Dec. 31 at 7 p.m. at Duanesburg Town Hall: 5853 Western Turnpike.
Correction 1:30 p.m. Monday 12/30: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Wallace Johnson in the third paragraph and later misidentified Johnson in two other sections, the 14th paragraph and final quote. All references have been corrected to attribute them to Johnson.