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Amherst solar project that seeks 25-year tax break would create two jobs

Amherst solar project that seeks 25-year tax break would create two jobs

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The new owner of a proposed community solar farm project in Amherst hopes to land a special package of tax breaks over 25 years from the town.

Amherst Community Solar, which was acquired last month by Boulder, Colo.-based Catalyze, wants to put up a 5-megawatt solar power generating project at 595 Schoelles Road, between Campbell Boulevard and Hopkins Road.

The $8.57 million ground-mounted project would put solar panels on 21.5 acres of land that it would lease from Cimato Enterprises, according to the company's application to the Amherst Industrial Development Agency. The energy that will be produced will be fed into the local power grid.

Construction is expected to begin by May and finish by Sept. 30.

Costs include $1.394 million for construction, $6.66 million for equipment and $368,400 for infrastructure. Financing includes $6.8 million in equity and $1.77 million in grants and tax credits.

Catalyze is seeking sales tax breaks of up to $166,250 on the purchase of materials and equipment. But it's also seeking an unusual partial abatement of property taxes, through a customized 25-year payment in lieu of taxes agreement that calls for Catalyze to pay $4,500 per megawatt per year, increasing by 2% each year over the duration of the agreement.

That means the annual payment would start at $22,500 and increase to $36,190 after 25 years, for a total of $720,682. And it would deviate from the Uniform Tax Exemption Policy followed by all the local industrial development agencies, which does not include provisions related to renewable energy projects or payments per megawatt.

The project would create two part-time permanent jobs to operate the facility, with an average salary of $5,000. The project will also involve local sheep grazing to maintain vegetation on the site.

But the special agreement would "provide confidence to the long-term operating expenses of the project, against which its investors can provide the upfront investment in materials, labor and operations of the project," Catalyze noted.

Catalyze indicated that it may not move forward with the project without the tax breaks.

"Without the ability to forecast project taxes and expenses, the likelihood of the project moving forward is greatly diminished," Catalyze said. "The project owner/investor would not make the upfront capital investment and move on to other projects located elsewhere in the state."

The Amherst IDA noted that the project was approved by the Amherst Planning Board and the Amherst Town Board. It would not require additional services, and would generate additional tax revenues, compared to the payments now received on the parcel. The property taxes now are just $1,150 per year.

The agency also noted that the project was found to not have a "significant adverse effect" on the environment, and that "the production of alternative, renewal, green energy is consistent with New York State energy goals and policies.

"The impact of the project is a positive one on the community, as it will promote job opportunities, general prosperity and economic welfare for the residents of Erie County and the Town of Amherst, and in addition, the project will help fulfill alternative, renewable, green energy needs of the State of New York," the IDA wrote.

The AIDA will hold a remote public hearing on the request on at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. 

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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