A PILOT program for Northampton Solar, financial aid for classes at the Senior Center, and a “gift” from Eversource
By Jules Marsh
On Thursday, September 20, the Northampton City Council held its fifteenth meeting of the year. Approximately 4 people were present. No one spoke during public comment.
A Strange Area of Taxation
Mayor Narkewicz requested authorization from the council to enter into a PILOT agreement with CED, Northampton Solar, LLC, a subsidiary of Con Edison Clean Energy Businesses formed in August 2018, that would pertain to the solar electric generating facility the company is set to develop on Burt Pits Road. PILOT stands for Payment in Lieu of Taxes and is a formalized way for municipalities to seek tax-like payments from tax-exempt property owners such as non-profit entities. CED, Northampton Solar is not a non-profit (or IS a non-non-profit), but because of the difficulty in determining a taxable value for a solar electric generating facilities, PILOT agreements like these have become standard approaches to decide on how to tax facilities that generate solar power.
After Councilor Dwight asked why Northampton Solar would not be taxed under the same practices as other privately owned companies, Narkewicz explained that this the solar industry is in fact, “a strange area of taxation” and a “niche thing relative to solar.” The decision to do a PILOT rather than taxing Northampton Solar like other privately owned business ventures is because due to a lack of mandate on solar facility taxation by the state, many municipalities are ending up in legal disputes with solar companies on how to tax solar projects. In many of those cases, appellate boards are siding with solar companies. There are many active PILOT agreements with solar companies in the Commonwealth, including in Chicopee, Millbury, and Rochester.
The 20 year term for the agreement was a cause of concern for Councilors Klein, Dwight, Murphy and O’Donnell. Though Narkewicz initially told the council that the PILOT agreement would be made for a 20 year period, later in the meeting he said it may actually be a 10 year agreement and that he would report back next meeting. The Council voted unanimously to give the Mayor authorization to make the agreement, but requested additional information that would serve to inform their second vote (the Council votes on EVERYTHING twice).
Gift Fund for Senior Center Programs
The Council approved a request for $3,600 to go to the Senior Center gift fund for programs. The money will serve to provide financial assistance to low income seniors who would like to participate in health and wellness programs, which include fitness and cooking classes.
To: Northampton, From:Eversource
The council voted unanimously voted to accept a culvert replacement and a water main replacement on Park Hill Road that will cost $100,000-200,000 and will be paid for entirely by Eversource, despite the fact that the city of Northampton is not an Eversource client. The Mayor weighed in on the nature of the gift, “Reading between the lines, they had done work somewhere else and had run afoul of ecological rules, this is an offset for that.” The new culvert will also serve as a tunnel for wildlife.
I left this meeting with a few questions:
Where did Eversource “run afoul” on ecological rules?
Is the water main replacement a type of bribe? Is there a different standard of justice for Eversource as there is for everyone else?