The Niagara County Legislature stood firm this week, working to preserve community rule over large-scale energy projects being actively proposed throughout the region. The legislature enacted a resolution to remove Real Property Tax exemptions from approaching solar and wind companies within Niagara County.
According to supporting legislators of this resolution, a PILOT (payment-in-lieu of taxes) program could save renewable industrial energy companies the same costs cut from a tax exemption. The catch, they would have to gain approval from the hosting community’s legislative body in order to apply, reinforcing community control in Niagara County’s towns, villages and cities.
The vote was not unanimous, with nine legislators in favor and five against, the floor opened for debate after the official ruling.
5th District Legislator Christopher Robins (against the resolution) said: “Just a comment on this, I am well aware there are different situations around the county with the solar and wind energy. However, I think to blanket this over the whole county; there’s lots of different spots throughout Niagara County where wind and solar energy would be useful.” Robins added,
“With climate change and the movement toward alternative energy, this is something as a county we should do.”
11th District Legislator David Godfrey (for the resolution) responded: “First of all, I have yet to talk to anyone who is against renewable energy, including myself, I’m in favor of it. The locations in some areas make good sense, including right here in Niagara County. I have asked our economic development agency and the IDA to actually prepare a pamphlet of sites throughout Niagara County, for greenfield sites, and having those sites already named for industrial use.” Godfrey added,
“Secondly, we are opposed to the top-down approach from Albany that goes out of its way to trample the decision-making authority in our local towns.”
Lastly, he said, “Third, by opting out, we are sending message that if a project comes to Niagara County and does not have community support, there will be no tax breaks, period. However, if a project wins community support by choosing a right location which we offer to them, our IDA is more than willing to work with developers and move those projects forward to bring green energy to Niagara County.”
3rd District Legislator Mark J. Grozio (against the resolution) added: “There’s a couple of projects in the City of Niagara Falls that we have been working on for a couple years right now. We are exploring solar on our county buildings. We’re exploring solar right now on our county dump.” Grozio, in agreement with the opposition, said, “I still think this has to take a good look at the area and a lot of input from the municipality.” Yet, ended with referring to the resolution as a “blanket policy.”
13th District Legislator Anita Mullane (against the resolution) said: “I represent the City of Lockport. I have contacted the City of Lockport Assessor. She is currently not assessing for this project but thinks she will be assessing for this project next year.” Mullane added,
“I understand the premise behind this, Legislator Godfrey. I understand why you’re doing it and it is admirable, but because I represent the City of Lockport, it would be to the detriment of the residents in the City of Lockport that put these solar projects and wind projects on their homes.”
County Manager Rick Updegrove, prompted by supporters of the resolution, said: “When you put a little panel on your roof, is the assessment really going up? So, we are really talking about apples and oranges here,” speaking of the comparison to residential and industrial solar installations with a follow-up tax assessment.
14th District Legislator John Syracuse (for the resolution) said: “This is not a statement against green energy, but a statement rather in support of local control.” He added,
“A vote against this resolution is ultimately a vote to support industrial wind or solar in your neighborhood. With this resolution, you’re giving local control back to those municipalities.”