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County opts out of green-energy tax exemption

For Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey, Tuesday night’s legislative battle over opting out of a state-authorized property tax exemption for solar and wind energy systems had nothing to do with going green.

Godfrey, R-Wilson, said the issue was “local control” versus a “top down” set of alternative energy incentives passed on from Albany. Legislator Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, argued those alternative incentives were not about local control but, rather, economic development.

“I’m worried about economic development,” Virtuoso said as the legislature debated the opt-out proposal. “If there’s one thing that unites this legislature it’s economic development.”

And Virtuoso suggested that the local lack of alternative energy incentives authorized in state law would have a harmful effect on the county’s efforts to lure an Amazon distribution center.

“They are committed to solar energy. That means they’re going to have solar panels on top of that distribution center,” Virtuoso said. “Are they gonna say, ‘We’re outta here’ ’cause we can’t get a tax break if we put solar panels on our building?”

Legislator Chris Robins, D-Niagara Falls, echoed Virtuoso’s concerns.

“In today’s day and age of climate change, I’m not sure this is something that we, as a county, should do,” Robins said.

But Godfrey and Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane,, the co-sponsor of the opt-out local law, pushed back, saying tax breaks could be given to developers by the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.

“(The IDA) can guide (developers) to locations (for alternative energy projects),” Godfrey said. “We are sending a message. If a project comes to Niagara County and has no community support, there will be no tax breaks.”

The local law, Godfrey said, would bring back home rule to municipalities where energy companies are courting farmers to use their land for large-scale clean energy projects.

“I don’t care if it’s a landfill or a brownfield,” Godfrey said. “We will provide a pamphlet of conducive sites where such projects would be of benefit. Don’t take our farmland.”

Syracuse criticized Virtuoso’s concerns, suggesting he would place economic development over the will of community residents.

The local law was approved by a 9 to 5 vote.