FULTON COUNTY -- The Fulton County Board of Supervisors voted Monday to opt out of a New York state tax exemption for renewable energy projects, including those involving solar, wind and farm waste.
While New York state property tax law offers a 15-year tax exemption for renewable energy projects, local governments have the ability to opt-out and fully tax the projects as capital upgrades to existing property.
Only Stratford Supervisor Allicia Rice and Gloversville 5th Ward Supervisor Greg Young, both Democrats, voted against the local law.
Earlier this year, Montgomery County also opted out of the tax exemption and now fully taxes new renewable projects.
The decision to opt-out of the tax exemption appears to be linked to the fairly high-number of solar farms either being built in or proposed for Fulton and Montgomery counties.
Both Fulton and Montgomery counties had shifted away from the full tax exemption offered by New York state in favor of Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreements in recent years. While PILOTS gradually phase-in full taxation of the land over a 15-year period, both counties have now abandoned that method of taxing renewable energy projects in favor of full-taxation.
Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead said there are about six solar farms in Fulton County now paying taxes as part of PILOT agreements.
Montgomery County officials cited the cumbersome nature of administering PILOT agreements as part of the reason they scrapped that approach earlier this year.
Perth Supervisor Greg Fagan spoke in favor of scrapping the exemption.
"This in no way stops solar farms from being developed, but it does level the playing field for any other business would have to pay for capital improvements to their properties. There's a lot of money being made out there for solar; this will hopefully get some of that back to our taxpayers," Fagan said.
During the public comment period, several county residents spoke out against the tax exemption change, including Matthew Vertucci, who said he was a resident of Gloversville. Vertucci said he believes the real reason the board passed the law was because of objections by Fulton County residents to the way solar panels look.
"I am in favor of solar power. My understanding is this objection to solar power is based on aesthetics. I'm older than some of you, but I remember when the Adirondack Park was suffering from acid rain; that's pretty un-aesthetic," he said.
Bleecker Supervisor David Howard said his town doesn't have the electrical grid necessary to support solar farms, but he still opposes the tax break because he thinks its unfair to other industries. He acknowledged that the federal government offers tax breaks to oil and gas projects.
"That's not a county issue," Howard said.
Johnstown Supervisor Jack Wilson, who is the chairman of the board of supervisors, said he doubts the loss of any tax breaks from the county will be a deterrent to future solar farms. He said the other municipalities, like the school districts, will still offer tax incentives and must pass their own opt-out legislation if they wish to fully tax renewable projects.
"I'm not against solar farms, however, they have their place. I don't like to see them out on Route 30 or Route 67, the main roads. I think there are much better places for them on back roads, on land that is less than stellar, to be used as farmland. It's a tragedy when they put solar farms on class A farmlands," he said.