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IDA Approves Tax Breaks For Ripley Solar Project

A public informational session was held in November 2021 on the proposed 270 megawatt solar project in South Ripley. Tuesday, the county IDA Board of Directors approved a number of financial incentives for the project. Submitted photo

A major solar project for Chautauqua County now has the tax breaks it requested for construction and operation.

On Tuesday, the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency approved Payment In Lieu Of Tax incentives for ConnectGen Chautauqua County LLC’s South Ripley Solar Project, a 270-megawatt large-scale solar project located in South Ripley. The project will include a 20 MW battery energy storage component.

“This is a project that ConnectGen and the community have been working on for a couple of years,” said Mark Geise, deputy county executive for economic development and chief executive officer of the CCIDA. “The built-in certainty of guaranteed revenue made possible by the PILOT and Host Community Agreements will allow Ripley and Chautauqua County to make long-term financial plans, and I’m glad that the CCIDA could assist the town and ConnectGen in making it a reality.”

Last month, the Ripley Town Board approved a Host Community Agreement with ConnectGen. The agreement calls for the town to receive $36,870,374 total over the next 30 years. The first year the town will receive $1 million and a minimum of $189,000 will be provided to the Ripley Fire District.

Doug Bowen, Ripley town supervisor said, “This has been a long and sometimes challenging project; however, at the end of the day the revenue from this project will benefit the citizens of the Town for many years to come.”

ConnectGen has worked since late 2018 to introduce the project to the Ripley community, meet with state agencies and local municipalities, and perform environmental studies. In August 2021, ConnectGen filed a 94-c application for the project, which provides extensive details regarding project design, environmental review, economic and community benefits, and potential impacts and mitigations.

The project still needs final approval from the state.

“Right now, the state Office of Renewable Energy Siting is reviewing all of our documentation. We expect potentially eight to 12 months of review from the state before any approval is granted,” said Isaac Phillips with ConnectGen during Tuesday’s IDA meeting.

Subject to the receipt of necessary permits, it is anticipated that project construction will commence in late 2022. According to IDA officials, the project is not expected to impact local farmlands currently producing dairy or cultivating vineyards.

“This project is a win for the town of Ripley, Chautauqua County, and the state of New York,” said Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel. “We are thrilled that we have the land and infrastructure to attract this clean energy project to our area.”

Through the PILOT and Host Community Agreements, the project is expected to contribute over $60 million in increased revenue to local taxing jurisdictions including the town of Ripley, Chautauqua County, the Sherman Central School District, the Ripley Central School District, and the Ripley Volunteer Fire Department over its 30-plus-year lifespan. In addition to the local tax benefits, local landowners are expected to receive more than $30 million in long-term revenue in the form of solar leases, easement agreements, and good neighbor agreements.

The IDA board unanimously approved a 30-year PILOT agreement, sales tax abatements, and a mortgage recording tax abatement for the project. According to Linda Burns, CCIDA project manager, the estimated financial incentive package over the 30-year term is valued at approximately $88 million, while the projected state and regional benefits that are expected to result from the project are estimated at $238 million – a benefit to cost ratio of 3:1.

Before the vote, legislator Tom Harmon, R-Silver Creek, who was appointed to the IDA board on Tuesday, asked Phillips about the decommissioning plans.

According to Phillips, the life of the solar panels are expected to last 30 to 35 years. Because solar has changed so much in the last decade, a lot of the solar panels constructed now haven’t had to be decommissioned. He expects the development of future recycling centers to handle solar panels, but at this point, there’s very little being disposed of. As for the steel used, he said that should all be able to be removed and recycled.

Before construction begins, there will be a decommissioning bond in place that will set by an independent decommissioning engineer. Phillips wasn’t certain on how much the bond will be, but he said it will likely be 5-10% of the cost of the entire project.

He added that the decommissioning bond and plans will be reviewed every five years and adjustments will be made if necessary.

The company estimates that construction of the project will create up to 200 family-wage construction jobs. Once completed, the project will require two to four full time jobs for ongoing monitoring and maintenance. Through its contracts with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities, the project will contribute a significant amount of renewable energy to assist the State of New York in achieving its Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act goal to obtain 70% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, supplying enough electricity to power more than 55,000 average New York homes annually.

“We want to thank the county of Chautauqua Industrial Development Agency staff and board members, who put a tremendous amount of effort into our PILOT negotiations,” ConnectGen Chief Executive Officer Caton Fenz said. “This agreement is a significant milestone for the project and the county, and we are excited for the opportunity to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment, tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenues for Chautauqua County, the town of Ripley, and the Ripley and Sherman school districts, and more than 200 family-wage jobs during the construction process.”

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