AT MINIMUM, IT WILL PAY $875k IN TAXES
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
LAURENS – Young Ryan Storke came across as a level-headed, knowledgeable, straightforward chap.
Asked by farmer Gary Lull who would clean up after the 3,000-acre solar farm he is proposing in West Laurens eventually wears out, he matter-of-factly said the state Public Service Commission (PSC) requires a line of credit be maintained sufficient for the job.
“All the tourists who come here to see the beautiful countryside will see all black panels” between West Laurens and Morris, asked county Rep. Rick Brockway, R-Laurens. Storke answered, “Yes.”
Asked if there are hidden costs that wouldn’t be covered by the annual $1,000-per-acre lease his company, Storke Renewables LLC, is offering landowners, he said the company will cover any taxes that may go up – for instance, if land must be taken out of an ag district, or if land is reclassified from agricultural to commercial.
Plus, “intervenor funds” will be provided to the town to hire its own engineers to make an independent assessment of Storke’s plans.
What chemicals are in the panels? “Zinc, boron, solder, silica,” he answered matter-of-factly.
The panels come from all over the world – Canada, India, China, France. Any from the U.S.? The American firms, Solar City and Tesla, just aren’t competitive, he said.
Some 50 people gathered at the Laurens Town Board meeting Monday, Feb. 10, to hear someone no one around here had heard about until a month ago talk about a project that could transform the West Laurens corner of Otsego County.
What’s going on now is simply the “exploratory stage,” seeing if it’s possible to line up leases with landowners, Storke said. He plans to be back at the next Laurens Town Board meeting, at 7 p.m. Monday, March 9, with a formal proposal.
The benefits would be financial: Storke reported the State of New York has determined such projects will pay a minimum $2,500 per megawatt hour in annual PILOTS (payments in lieu of taxes) to local taxing entities.
That’s $875,000, split among the town, school district and other taxing entities – $2,500 for each of the 3,500 solar panels Storke said his company aims to install.
It could be more, he said. Town Attorney Richard Harlem noted the company will have to negotiate a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) with the county Industrial Development Authority, an affiliate of Otsego Now.
As the young developer described it – 30, Storke, who attended SUNY Morrisville, said he’s been in the business for 12 years – the process his company is going through in West Laurens is strictly defined and regulated by the PSC and related state agencies.
For instance, the state has issued a list of sites around the state, near power lines like Marcy South, which runs north-south near West Laurens, that would be desirable to utilities seeking electricity to serve the New York Metropolitan Area – not Otsego County.
“We’re a developer, not an operator,” he added.
His company, Storke said, “has eight or 10 of these in different stages across the state,” only one of which is mostly completed, although not yet generating electricity. The company has also been working in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, although it is no longer active in the Bay State.
The projects are big enough to be covered by an Article 10 proceeding, where the PUC convenes a siting board that includes commissioners of four state departments, plus two local residents.
The review takes time, and Storke said, if nothing untoward happens, the project won’t be complete for five years.
The state specifies the height and type of fences around the installation. To keep out deer? “To keep people from poking their fingers in it,” he said.
Herbicides are only allowed in specific situations, and weeds are kept under control by, not goats, not cows, but sheep. He estimated this project will require 3,000 sheep.