In addition to the loss of tax exemptions, solar farms in Washington County will soon be charged a higher application fee.
The $50 fee may go as high as $1,500, because supervisors said they think even a fee that high would be considered “lunch money” to solar farm developers.
It’s the latest in a series of actions that drive up the cost of doing solar business in Washington County, and some supervisors have objected, because they want to support greener energy use.
Supervisors have been torn on the issue, because solar farms use vacant land that could be farmed. It’s not clear whether that land could ever be used as farmland again, after panels are installed.
Developers have to build a thick concrete foundation to support the panels, and bury electrical cables as well. All of that would have to be removed to return the land to farmland.
Supervisors have also been crafting local rules, town by town, on removal of panels when the solar farms are decommissioned. Developers may have to put up a bond or sign an agreement, promising to take care of all removal costs.
In that atmosphere, they greeted enthusiastically a proposal on Tuesday to raise the solar farm application fee.
Their only objection: The proposal didn’t go far enough.
They were presented with a plan to raise the fee from $50 to $150.
“I would say $50 is too cheap,” said Whitehall Supervisor George Armstrong, who has generally been a strong supporter of solar farms and reiterated that support Tuesday.
Developers could afford a much higher fee, he said, and he proposed $500.
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Easton Supervisor Dan Shaw said developers would be willing to pay even more than that. A developer in Easton immediately wrote out a check for $1,500 when Easton officials said they would have to check on the exact application fee.
The developer said, “If it’s anything more, let me know,” Shaw said.
He said Easton accepted the check.
From a workload perspective, solar farms require an average of five or six inspections, county officials said. That’s because they have to check on site work and on the pouring of the foundation, as well as final inspections when the project is done.
That could support a fee of six times the cost of a residential project, which requires just one inspection, said Kingsbury Supervisor Dana Hogan. That would be $300.
“Not enough,” disagreed White Creek Supervisor Bob Shay. “I’d go $1,500, myself.”
Armstrong and Hogan supported that amount, with Armstrong saying that such fees are tiny in comparison to a multimillion-dollar project.
“That’s lunch money,” he said.
Still, some supervisors hesitated to go so high. Shaw suggested they create a sliding scale, based on kilowatts.
“Kilowatts definitely define the scope and magnitude” of a project, he said.
County officials will calculate the workload of their biggest solar farm projects, and bring a sliding scale proposal back to the supervisors for consideration.