The wind-energy industry won a battle in Pennsylvania with a new state law that will settle the question of whether the value of turbines on wind farms can figure into property tax assessments.
The law, which was signed Nov. 29 by Gov. Ed Rendell and takes effect in late January, states that the value of wind turbines, like the value of other business equipment, must not be counted by tax assessors when setting property values.
Counties, municipalities and school districts that host Pennsylvania’s seven wind farms were taking different approaches on whether to tax turbines, proponents of the law said.
The provision, which was packaged with other changes to local taxation law, received unanimous approval from the General Assembly. The debate over how to tax wind turbines is an example of the legal and tax uncertainties that wind-energy advocates say are hampering the industry’s growth nationally.
“It was becoming apparent that wind was going to be singled out in some municipalities and subject to taxes that could impair or destroy the wind industry in the state,” said John Hanger, whose group, PennFuture, pressed for the law.
Wayne County, which is home to the Waymart wind farm, had sought to tax the wind turbines as it would a traditional power-plant structure. In a now-settled lawsuit, the northeastern Pennsylvania county had argued that a state law that exempts business equipment, but not buildings, from property taxes never considered that a power plant could generate power without a traditional structure around it.
Wayne County’s chief assessor, John Nolan, acknowledged that the new law prohibits some of the taxation policies that the county had sought.
Pennsylvania currently is home to 153 megawatts of wind power, 13th highest in the nation and second to New York among states east of the Mississippi River, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Five of the state’s seven wind farms, including Waymart, are owned by Florida-based FPL Group Inc., the nation’s largest wind farm owner.
Three more are under construction in Pennsylvania – one in Cambria County, one on the Cambria-Blair county line and one in Schuylkill County – and would add 206 megawatts, according to the wind association.
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