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Jefferson County lawmakers deny tax breaks for green energy projects

Legislator Scott Gray said big renewable energy developers projects only create a handful of jobs. Photo: Julia Botero

Jefferson County lawmakers have voted not to grant tax breaks for big solar and wind projects. County leaders say large-scale alternative energy farms do not provide the county with enough incentives to justify a tax deal.

Legislature chairman Scott Gray said wind developers are approaching towns in Jefferson County not expecting to pay their full share of taxes. “You’re asking the property tax payers of this community to subsidize a project. So we want to make sure there is something in return for those taxpayers’ investments."

Gray said big wind and solar projects only create a handful of jobs. They don’t circulate enough money throughout the local economy. And what money is made, he said, goes to the company’s investors. “It’s certainly not adding anything to our community, so whatever revenue is being generated is being exported," said Gray.

Legislator Jeremiah Maxon said the Galloo Island wind farm is a good example of a project that will only benefit a few, mainly the person who owns land on the Lake Ontario island. He said the developer, Apex Energy, is expecting to get tax break anyway. “They are proposing a 80% tax abatement, 20% of the full value that they should be paying every year. They are saying we prefer to pay 20%,” said Maxon.

Maxon said the county's new policy is about setting the bar for all projects to come. “Our goal is not to discourage development. It’s to encourage development with your own money.”

Legislators said with the state-mandated tax cap they have to be careful about protecting revenue. The vote passed with a majority in favor of the new policy. Only one legislator voted against it. Allen Drake represents the towns of Philadelphia and Antwerp. He said he’d rather local people decide on energy projects on a case by case basis. “I think there are some areas that could use economic development if these windmills would come in. I’m not for wind or against wind. I just want to make sure the local people have a say," Drake said.

Towns, villages and school districts can still strike their own tax deals. The Industrial Development Agency also has a say on a wind developer's tax agreement, but the county legislature made it clear it expects developers to pay the full tax rate.

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