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Smart Growth Solar in Lewis County

October 19, 2020

LOWVILLE, NY  When New York State passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in July 2019 to achieve 100% zero emissions electricity by 2040, we knew that we needed to thoughtfully come up with a plan of action to work with affected municipalities, land owners and solar developers in a proactive and efficient way that welcomes the opportunities of renewable energy and preserves our largest industry, agriculture, at the same time.

The Lewis County IDA, in partnership with Lewis County, have engaged in thoughtful conversations to truly understand the solar process in Lewis County.  We have worked to determine how we can implement a process to become more aware of solar projects in Lewis County and proactively understand our priorities and goals for solar development.  We have partnered with Lewis County Planning, Real Properties, Lewis County Soil and Water and local attorneys throughout the creation of a ‘county-wide solar process’ that ensures that we are welcoming solar development opportunities and preserving our best agriculture lands that, through direct and indirect impacts, contributes so much to our local economy.  

Over the past several months, we have worked on a “two-pronged” approach to solar development in Lewis County.  The first prong, as passed in a resolution of support by the County Legislature on September 1, 2020, encourages municipalities to pass solar zoning laws, developed by NYS Tug Hill Commission, Development Authority of the North Country and Lewis County Planning.  The solar law ensures key elements like:  

  • Prime Ag land is being protected “to the maximum extent possible”
  • Screening so projects don’t interfere with viewshed 
  • Decommissioning so project is cleaned up after useful life 
  • Requires neighbors to be notified of project 
  • Property maintenance plans submitted 
  • Fencing so solar projects are protected from public tampering 
  • Noise analysis to determine potential adverse impacts to neighboring properties 

The second prong concerns the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreements sought by developers for projects.  LCIDA deemed it necessary to revise their Universal Tax Exemption Policy (UTEP) to specifically address solar with a focus on creating a structure that would incentivize the use of marginal agricultural land while also protecting a landowners ability to develop their land as they see fit.  The UTEP helps to guide how the Lewis County IDA issues Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) programs for new business development, and more specifically, the revisions to our UTEP will include language to address solar PILOTS within the County.   

Some of the key revisions to the UTEP that will be specific to solar development include asking the questions:  

  • Is the land proposed for development supporting a commercial farming operation (within the past 18 months)?  
  • Is the land the solar developer pursuing labeled prime, prime if drained or land of statewide importance, as defined by USDA?
  • Is the land considered marginal land(i.e. does not fit into the 3 categories outlined above) 

Each PILOT agreement will be considered on a case by case basis, with the proposal to start PILOT rates at $5,500 per mega-watt for the use of prime, actively farmed landThe PILOT rate becomes more attractive for the developer as the developer pursues idle and/or lower quality soil types.  This structure is an effort to more fairly compensate for the development of land with the highest value to the county’s agricultural economy and encourage development of more marginal acres.   As a part of the UTEP revision process, the IDA must send our UTEP to affected jurisdictions for review.  We ask that if you are a landowner and are interested in learning more, please contact your local town supervisor or County Legislator.   To contact the IDA directly, call 315-376-3014, or email brittany@naturallylewis.com.    Informative links for solar development:  

Download Fact Sheet

LCIDA Solar Fact Sheet

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About Lewis County IDA 
 
Our mission is to attract and enhance industrial and economic development, help create jobs and maintain economic stability within Lewis County.  We will work to promote and enhance the economic conditions, recreational opportunities, prevent unemployment and economic deterioration, and ensure the prosperity of our businesses, industries, communities, and citizens, leading to an overall better quality of life. 
 
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