Schools consider options for taxing solar farm projects

Friday, October 21, 2016 - Updated: 7:57 AM


Recorder News Staff

As more solar developers are looking to Montgomery County for utility-scale projects, school districts are beginning to consider routes to take regarding a state law that would make the projects tax exempt.

While many school districts in the county have not officially taken action on the state law that makes solar projects tax exempt for 15 years, some district officials have said school boards are considering options. Others, meanwhile, have said they need to do more research.

The law allows alternative energy developers, solar, wind or farm waste energy systems, to have a 15-year exemption from general municipal and school district taxes.

First established in 1977, it was re-enacted in 1990 for local option to allow municipalities, counties and school districts to opt out with a local law or resolution, according to the Department of Taxation and Finance.

Fort Plain Central School District Superintendent David Ziskin said Fort Plain officials are waiting to see what route the Montgomery County Legislature takes before deciding on an option.

"We have to consider it and we will be talking about it at our next board of education meeting, the options that are out there," Ziskin said. "We're interested to see what direction the county goes."

He said the district is waiting to see if the county develops its own payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) schedule or are looking at the real property tax law section 485B commercial tax exemption. Under section 485B, businesses are partially exempt from property tax for 10 years, rather than fully exempt for 15 years, as in the alternate energy law.

Ziskin said district officials have already spoken to the sole assessor and the initial discussions with the board of education will begin soon.

Montgomery County is currently considering setting up a PILOT schedule that would last 15 years. The project would begin at a 50 percent exemption and decrease until the project reaches full taxable value. The project developer must apply to the county executive's office to be considered for the PILOT.

The Economic Planning and Development Committee passed the law to the full legislature during its Oct. 18 meeting. The legislature will vote on it Oct. 25.

Fonda-Fultonville Central School District Superintendent Thomas Ciaccio said the Fonda-Fultonville Board of Education is also considering options.

"We will weigh all the options and determine what our next action will be," Ciaccio said.

Greater Amsterdam School District Superintendent Vicma Ramos said there have not been any discussions in the school district regarding the solar tax exemptions, according to district spokesperson Stephanie Dillon.

Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Superintendent David Halloran said he had not heard of the exemption, but said he would like to get more information on it.

"It sounds like it could possibly impact us," he said.

Halloran said when he first began as superintendent, he was approached by Borrego Solar Systems to set up a system on a portion of land within the district that would benefit OESJ. However, the company learned utilities were not suitable to for a solar development and the company did not pursue the project.

"Once this carrier found that out, they were totally disinterested in working with us.... I was kind of shocked at the finality at it. It was on the front burner when I first got here, like a lot of people, but when I got that news, the trail went cold real quickly," Halloran said.

Fort Plain switched on a 650-panel solar array in April that was installed by Monolith Solar Associates, LLC. The system is expected to save the school district about $375,000 over the next 15 years.

The Canajoharie Central School District also has a solar array in the works, from developer SolarCity, but it has not yet been switched on. Canajoharie district officials did not return request for comment on this story.