Construction of two solar farms in Town of Oswegatchie to begin in spring

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Oct. 8—OSWEGATCHIE — Two solar farms are expected to begin construction next spring in the Town of Oswegatchie and be fully functional and connected to the power grid by next fall, according to the developer behind the projects.

Ryan McCune, business development manager with Nexamp, the developer of the two projects — one called Wadhams Solar, LLC, and the other Oswegatchie Solar, LLC — said that civil engineering and road work should be completed later this fall with construction of what they call "community" solar farms taking place in spring of 2022.

Wadhams Solar, LLC, with an investment of $7.3 million, received final approval from the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) on Friday. That would turn a 38-acre portion of a 197-acre parcel at Wadhams Hall, 6866 State Highway 37, the former college level seminary which is currently a retreat center, into a solar farm. Wadhams Hall is a separate corporation from the Diocese of Ogdensburg.

Monsignor Robert H. Aucoin, president of Wadhams Hall, said that the project would take place beyond the fields behind the facility in a wooded portion of its property and would not affect every day function of the facility.

"Since clean energy is an issue in today's society, I just figured it would be a win, win situation because we are leasing the land and solar energy will be produced. It seems like a good deal," said Msgr. Aucoin.

The other project, Oswegatchie Solar, LLC, located off of State Highway 37, about 1.5 miles south of Hanson Aggregate was fully approved by all the entities in 2020 but has been delayed by COVID-19. That solar farm that will take up 32-plus acres of land and the total project is approximately $6.5 million, according to McCune.

Nexamp, like all other developers, often look at two major factors when prospecting for solar farm development projects — grid capacity and a combination of usable land and regulatory pathways, according to McCune.

"The town of Oswegatchie has a reasonable solar siting law and while there are some challenging areas in the town due to wetlands and other water features, generally speaking there has been some usable parcels in areas that could support additional generation. Hence why we have this concentration of projects," said McCune.

The St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) assisted with both solar farm projects. PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreements with the Town of Oswegatchie and the Ogdensburg City School Board of Education were finalized over the summer for the Wadhams Solar, LLC, project.

Patrick Kelly, chief executive officer of the St. Lawrence County IDA, said that having the PILOT agreements approved is the first step in bringing another solar farm to the area.

"Our policy is to get the affirmative consent from the local taxing jurisdictions, so in this case it would be the school district and the town before we do our public hearing and bring the project to our board for approval," said Kelly, "We have approved nine solar projects the first half of this year. There is a significant amount of solar project development activity around the state right now and certainly in St. Lawrence County, being the largest county in the state, stands to reason we are going to have a fair amount of interest in these types of projects."

According to the PILOT agreement approved by the city school board, it would be for 30 years and payments would increase annually by 2 percent up to the 20th year of the agreement where it would then decrease by 2 percent for years 21-30. The first year of the PILOT agreement with Wadhams Solar, LLC, is slated for 2023 and the three entities would receive an estimated payment of $23,750 followed by $24,225 in 2024. The Oswegatchie Solar, LLC PILOT agreement is similar but starts out at $27,500.

"The pilot payments are broken down just as if they were tax payments," said Kelly, "same proportion that a tax payment would be split."

Currently, Wadhams Hall is not paying taxes on the property. Kelly said that the PILOT agreement would change that which is a benefit to the school, town and county.

"That property is going from generating zero dollars to the taxing jurisdictions to generating $23,750 the first year and that will increase by two percent every year," said Kelly, "Certainly there is plenty of awareness of the impact of the costs of taxes on residents, on businesses. So one of the advantages of these types of projects is that its generating significant PILOT revenue for the taxing jurisdictions."

McCune said that Nexamp has been traditionally focused on increasing access to renewable energy, not just geographically but financially as well.

"Distributed Generation (DG) projects like the ones we have in Oswegatchie not only spread generation around the grid, helping keep energy local and deferring some otherwise inevitable transmission infrastructure expenses, but they also give people access to the benefit of that power," said McCune, "Since the levelized cost of electricity for solar is so much lower than any other type of new generator; we can pass some of the delta between our costs and the utilities costs along to our customers; be they small businesses, large municipalities or individual homes."

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