Some Parishville and Hopkinton residents fear PILOT agreements with wind companies
By CRAIG FREILICH
Some Parishville and Hopkinton residents are warning taxpayers and governments about the dangers of granting payments in lieu of taxes – PILOTS -- to a large-scale wind power project planned in those communities.
Atlantic Wind’s proposed North Ridge Wind Project would feature wind generators atop towers 350 to 500 feet tall in fields between State Routes 11B and 72.And the 15 to 20 members of the recently formed ad hoc Concerned Citizens for Rural Preservation are concerned the wind farm developers will ask for major tax breaks in the form of PILOTS.
“PILOTS are troublesome,” said Gary Snell, Sr. of the Potsdam-Parishville Road and chairman of Concerned Citizens for Rural Preservation. “We’re trying to get information to school boards and town boards about PILOTS.”
“If the wind companies get a PILOT instead of taxes, they get a deal,” said Luke Martin, a Concerned Citizens member. “We want to make sure that town boards, school boards, and the county board have a say in taxes. That’s our main emphasis, that they pay their taxes.”
Snell, Martin and others are worried that communities will lose out if local governments are persuaded to allow developers to pay a special lower amount than they would pay if the project was properly assessed and charged at regular property tax rates.
Atlantic Wind is a subsidiary of Avangrid, which holds all U.S. operations of Iberdrola S.A. of Spain, a major producer of renewable energy.
When the project was first announced five years ago, Iberdrola sent teams to Parishville and Hopkinton to evaluate the wind potential, to sign up landowners with offers of $10,000 a year per tower, and to present the company’s case at meetings with community members.
Now, Concerned Citizens has taken up the challenge of pointing out what they think would be a mistake if governments agree to tax-break arrangements.
“Our main effort is to inform the public so they are not misled, so they are not unaware of what’s going on,” said Snell, a retired superintendent of Potsdam Central School.
“PILOT agreements are negotiated typically at a much lesser value than assessment and taxation. That is why we would prefer an assessment and a charge at the local tax rate,” said Snell.
“On the plus side, there is a guaranteed money (usually) for 10 years. But the impact is less than what taxing authority would provide,” he said.
Martin said he and others near the proposed project are worried that people weren’t getting enough information.
“If my neighbors don’t know what’s going on, nobody else does either,” he said.
“We started meeting at my son’s roadside market on Needham Road,” he said, and before long a group of like-minded people formed the Concerned Citizens “to be a wind information group, to inform our neighbors.
The group has begun meeting with those boards to get them to hear their message.
“We are scrambling to catch up with things, to tell people about the project, to talk about tax fairness, and some of the other effects on their communities,” said Luke Dailey, another member of the group.
Another big concern of theirs is the force of a new state law devised in the wake of attempts by the Town of Hammond to rein in a proposed wind farm with local rules.
They are worried about a local government’s ability to exert control over what happens in their communities since state government began implementing new rules in 2011 that seem to be aimed at taking decisions that affect a community out of their hands.
“I understand there is a process where we can have input, but it’s minimal,” Snell said.
Those local siting boards will all state appointees. Each of those boards will have seven members: the chair of the board will be the chair of the state Public Service Department, the commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the state Commissioner of Health, the chair of the New York Energy Research and Development Authority, the commissioner of economic development, and two “ad hoc public members” from local government.
Those two local members will be by the majority leader of the state Senate and the speaker of the state Assembly from eight names supplied by the town and county boards. Beyond the appointment of all the members of the local board by state authorities, the local members will have little influence on the board’s decision, with no voting power and no authority.
“It’s a state takeover of local control,” said Snell. “They can override local decisions made by a town or a school board.”
The wind farm project, which could power as many as 24,000 homes, is moving forward but is still not a sure thing.
Iberdrola Communications Manager Paul Copleman said in June the project is still years from completion and could give no firm start date.
“There still remains a lot of work evaluating sites and many years remain in the permitting process,” Copleman said.
The Concerned Citizens are also looking at health effects of windmills, particularly the noise the huge rotating blades make and the lower frequency vibrations they generate, and the provisions of the contracts the Iberdrola companies are offering to local landowners for placement of their windmills.