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Op-ed: An open letter to Sharon Supervisor Sandra Manko

Op-ed: An open letter to Sharon Supervisor Sandra Manko

Some thoughts about NextEra Energy’s proposed solar farm

TO:  Town of Sharon Supervisor Sandra Manko:

Thank you for your recent request for public comments about NextEra Energy’s proposed solar farm.

Both public meetings in Sharon Springs revealed suspicions from local residents, as well they should have. We have been flamboozled in the past, and we recognize snake oil five miles away, and not just by its color. The men from NextEra were slick, well-spoken, and talked the usual “jobs” and “taxes” — we’ve heard it all before.

The NextEra representatives are professionals. They seemed inclusive by alloting us two members on the planning committee, keeping us in the loop with information, and basically giving us a place at the table.  

Well, I have a news flash— IT’S OUR TABLE.  

They are here at our invitation and with our permission. It is our land, our air and our water and soil, and their negotiating for a PILOT is outrageous. They are a huge profit-making business and should pay taxes just like we do. And for their leases, the farmers will not only owe taxes on their no-longer-farmlands, but on now-industrial lands with a much higher tax schedule. Will NextEra will produce more power (and profits) than they say they will? They won’t tell us how much and may not pay taxes on that amount, and for this we give them a PILOT? Why?

So what do we do?

If you read Wayne Stinson’s brilliant letter in the 9/26 Times-Journal, he had an interesting suggestion. If the company won’t agree to play by our set of rules on our land, then we could “do it ourselves. Schoharie County should own and develop solar sites as community assets benefiting all residents, with reduced energy costs” and advance local economy vitality with a citizen-owned solar generation program and a local county credit union or bank to keep the funds here for our use. 
It shouldn’t be difficult to find a professional or two to show us how. If our aim is to keep it local, use the power and profits ourselves, and care for the land being repurposed from farm and dairy to solar power, how can this not be a good thing?  

I have read headlines saying we can’t stop an Article 10.  Has one been used before?  What about the State Appeals Court that declared the supremacy of local laws over other laws?  This isn’t a federal project, so our local laws hold, right?  

The comments that have come in reveal the same concerns we saw when pipeline and fracking companies came to town.  How do we preserve our agricultural integrity over energy behemoths who want us to allow our resources to be taken, and, on top of that, want us to subsidize them? 

Residents are concerned about the solar company and its promises, cleanup when they are done, foliage control and use of herbicides under the solar panels, that they bring no jobs, are in conflict with Historic Village and Scenic Byway status, will decrease property values, will make the area commercial/industrial — all these factors and more were sent to you. I’m sure the NextEra representatives will speak soothingly to these concerns at the next public meeting.  

Meanwhile, could we investigate a few ideas?  

  • Doing it ourselves.
  • Setting our own enforceable solar farm laws and zoning regulations.
  • List what WE want — lower-cost local power, union jobs for those who will build and run it, protection of land underneath the panels, size of solar farms to fit our local laws, local control of project if we do it.

This is not a done deal, NextEra Energy. 

Thanks for listening, Sandy.

Karen Cookson lives in Sharon Springs and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Gazette Opinion section.

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