By Daniel Zuckerman, originally published in Hudson Valley 360 on February 15, 2018 11:28 pm.

Solar Company Makes Case for Hardship Waiver

COXSACKIE — A public hearing on whether to grant a hardship waiver to Cypress Creek Renewables was held during a Coxsackie Town Board meeting Tuesday. Representatives from the solar company made their case about how a townwide moratorium on solar projects will adversely affect plans to build.

The moratorium, established in November, is meant to give solar companies the opportunity to come forward if they are experiencing financial hardship, Coxsackie Town Supervisor Richard Hanse said.

The board has to make a determination on the hardship waiver within 15 days of the meeting. Once granted a waiver, the company can continue with the permitting process and is exempt from the moratorium.

“All five of us are searching our souls and researching the information to see if we believe that they proved their case of hardship,” Hanse said Wednesday.

The moratorium temporarily suspends processing of applications and issuing of permits, certificates of occupancy and approvals of certain land uses related to solar energy systems and farms.

“It can be extended another six [months], and we, the town board, would like to see it go fewer than six months,” Hanse said. “This part of the state, because we have open land, has been targeted by solar companies and we just want to make sure that all our ducks are in a row,” Hanse said.

Cypress Creek formally applied to build a 2-megawatt, 15-acre solar facility on Murders Kill Road last June once a solar code was established in the town. The company has since spent over $500,000 in nonrefundable interconnection payments, surveys, engineering and environmental studies, project attorney Thomas Puchner said.

“You have a moratorium that puts that in jeopardy,” Puchner said. “If Cypress or Fallen Tree Solar (a subsidiary company of Cypress Creek) doesn’t have certainty that they have a path forward, they’ll have to cancel the project, and all that is lost.”

The company would build on property owned by Joseph Skliba, who also has a financial hardship because he loses out on the sale of his property because of the moratorium, Puchner said.

“The financial hardship that we’ve shown is an extraordinary hardship and the waiver should be granted,” Puchner said.

Mary Barkman, Skliba’s sister, supports the Cypress Creek project, which she said will help her sibling meet his financial obligations. Barkman has been working with Cypress Creek for two years.

“[We] see the commitment to the surrounding community of Sleepy Hollow Lake and also the future of the town,” Barkman said. “Please take this hardship into your consideration.”

The company addressed neighbors of the proposed site about visibility from their homes and have acted on their concerns, Cypress Creek Zoning and Outreach Manager of Development Anne Waling said.

“We’ve tried to work with people to both accommodate their needs and the project’s needs,” Waling said. “We’ve really even gone above and beyond, I think, what the [town’s] ordinance has called for.”

Brian Wallace, of Coxsackie, asked Waling if the company applied for any state or federal subsidies. The company applied for a Megawatt Block grant from the state Energy Research and Development Authority, which would help recoup some of the project’s costs, representatives said.

When Wallace asked about how much the company would receive, Waling said she was unsure of the exact amount. The company had to have researched the kind of subsidies that were available before starting the project, Wallace said.

“A lot of these solar companies, whether they’re manufacturers or solar companies producing energy, rely on either state or federal subsidies because without those subsidies most of the projects aren’t viable,” Wallace said. “If it’s a hardship, it’s interesting to know what part of the project is being funded by taxpayers.”

Enacting the solar moratorium gives town officials time to research matters surrounding solar projects, Wallace said after the meeting.

“I hope they take the time to really investigate this and really look into it and not just give it a cursory review,” Wallace said. “The taxpayers elected them [the board members] and they need to do what’s right by the taxpayers.”

Carol Metz, of Coxsackie, supports solar energy but hopes research is done to see what type of solar projects the town could proceed with, rather than let any project go. The company was looking to invest in Coxsackie because there was no solar code two years ago, Metz said after the meeting.

“Finally, we woke up and said, ‘Look we need to look at this before we go forward,’” Metz said. “I’m not against solar panels, but they have to be placed away from residents so they don’t have to look at them everyday out their windows.”

Waling said she and Puchner made a strong case and they’re eager to work with the town’s planning board on the project which will provide the town with jobs and clean energy, she said.

“We were so grateful to have support from community members during the public hearing,” Waling said Thursday. “The project faces a big financial risk without a clear legal path forward so we hope the town board will resolve the situation soon.”