Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

The Power of Solar in Your Community

Lowering your town, county and school taxes and additional benefits

G. Harvey and N.R. Mallery

Berne, New York is a small rural community near Albany, the state capital. It is in some ways similar to many other towns across the United States. Its population was 2,695, at last count, and its character is mostly rural or residential. Established businesses are sufficient for many needs and are strongly connected with the community. The struggles are real because of the cost-of-living increases and community solar can be financially advantageous to the community.

Berne was originally part of the Dutch settlements along the Hudson River and appears in history in about 1750, but it was already settled by that time. Of course, as in many communities it has long-time residents, who have been there for their whole lives, and carry on their family traditions. Now Berne has opportunities that may have some very positive future impacts for the community.

One of these opportunities has to do with property taxes. The pandemic brought difficulties into the lives of many people. As a result of the financial struggles in Berne, the town decided that the tax rate should be reduced as much as possible to help with the hardships. The property tax rate was lowered to 0.5, meaning that $0.50 was charged for each $1,000 of property value.

Clearly a tax rate so low is not sustainable; the town must pay its bills, too. When the rate returned to normal this year, it was a shock to see the rate return to the more usual 4.6, or $4.60 per $1,000 of value. The Deputy Town Supervisor, Anita Clayton, pointed out that the new rate was still low, although local media had reported there was to be an increase of 800%. Truth be told, 800% of a dime is still less than a dollar.

Town of Berne, NY, an example for siting solar arrays

The town of Berne may have set the standard for siting solar arrays to other communities throughout the country. North American Clean Energy recently published an article outlining what the town accomplished as an example to help to accelerate the process (https://bit.ly/NACE-effect).

Understanding siting for solar

  • First thing is an understanding of what the problems with siting solar arrays are. Siting happens most smoothly if the local regulations are clear and concise.
  • Second, processing applications really needs to be given attention to make sure that permitting does not take excessive amounts of time.
  • And third, the views and feelings of the local people who live near the proposed array site need to be taken into account as well as any possible environmental and agricultural impacts.

Examining the Land Prospects for the Town of Berne

With 2,695 people, it was determined that the town of Berne has 1,196 parcels of land with an average size of 21 acres. Looking at these, 910 parcels were found to be zoned in such a way that solar projects could possibly be built. Further restrictions and zoning regulations reduces that number to 302.

Of course, the limitations on what can be done do not end with zoning. The town has setback requirements that a solar array must be sited at least 200 feet from abutting property and more than 100 feet from wetlands, streams, ponds, lakes, or water wells. This further reduces the number of sites to 145. And for any of these to work, it must have 20 acres that can be used within a quarter mile of a feeder line, which reduces the number of suitable parcels to 28.

To determine that Berne has 28 parcels suitable for use for solar arrays could not have been an easy task. There was a fair amount of work that went into the process, but the result is that Berne is better prepared for the transition to clean energy.

The effects that a solar array can have on a community

When a solar array is built, it adds to the value of the land, which adds to the value of the tax base. But it does this in ways that are distinctly different from what might be done with other types of development, or choosing not to develop.

A solar array can increase grid stability as well.

There are many ways to develop land. Solar panels will add value to vacant land by increasing tax revenues. Unlike residential development, which requires money to be spent on schools and various services, a solar project does not require much from the town – perhaps nothing at all.

We should mention that a solar project can be combined with agriculture in a wide variety of ways. It happens that a solar company, TJA Clean Energy (https://tja.energy/) and United Agrivoltaics (https://www.unitedagrivoltaics.com/), is already presenting proposals for a site on Switzkill Road, in Berne with agrivoltaic and pollinator site options. It also allows the adjoining property owner to continue to use the site for farming, where this solar array might be located. This is going through the approval process now.

Lowering Community Taxes

Community solar can do even more for the community. The town of Berne is in National Grid territory, and National Grid Renewables (NGR) is a subsidiary. That company is currently developing many more solar farms to the benefit of communities in its territory. (https://nationalgridrenewables.com/)

New York’s renewable energy goals are high and benefit our future with clean energy. There can be financial and health benefits. The cost of living can be reduced. It also assures reliable electricity for the community, especially if battery storage is included. Development of renewable energy in Berne could reduce taxes considerably in the same way that other communities have done when working with NGR.

In the December edition of Green Energy Times, we ran the article, “Solar Farms Produce Millions in Tax Revenues” (https://bit.ly/Solar-and-taxes). That article shows how some communities can have taxes significantly reduced when solar arrays are built in them. Since the events in that article, NGR has completed more sites that have benefited communities in their territory in Kentucky. These communities are receiving millions of dollars in tax revenues. Berne is in NGR territory and could also benefit largely by working with NGR for more solar farms that produce millions of dollars in tax revenues. So could many other communities like Berne. Solar development does not create the problems of residential or commercial development.

As taxes go down, with any luck the question of local resilience could also be addressed. And remember, it is not just taxes. Solar can be a big part of the solution from the savings in taxes which could ultimately lower the cost of living and leave more money in the pockets for those living in the community.

To see this article as it appears in print, in a pdf file, please click HERE.

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