Twin bills on Governor Patrick’s desk could give tax breaks to an energy company looking to build New England’s largest wind farm, on a mountain range in the western part of the state.
PPM Energy, the project developer, has benefited from a battery of state efforts designed to ease the birth of an energy-harnessing facility whose backers call it a model for the alternative energy strategies Patrick has vowed to pursue.
The legislation, fast-tracked this session, grants the towns of Florida and Monroe the authority to exempt the power company from paying property taxes on the private land marked for the 20-turbine Hoosac Wind project. Instead, the towns would negotiate unspecified “payment in lieu of taxes” (PILOT) with the firm.
By signing the bills, Patrick would set an example for tax treatment of wind energy projects, advance the type of renewable energy that he says will be a cornerstone of his tenure, and please a prominent state representative, North Adams Democrat Daniel Bosley, whom Patrick once welcomed into his Cabinet.
Officials from the towns, tucked into the northwestern part of the state on the Vermont border, say the distinct majority of residents there support the project, which is hung up on environmental appeals. In Florida, voters in 2003 backed a nonbinding resolution endorsing the project by a 3-to-1 margin.
Project advisers say the facility could supply energy for 9,500 average households. According to the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative’s Renewable Energy Trust director Warren Leon, PPM has secured 1,500 acres for the project.
“The folks in the town are for it,” said Marcella Stafford Gore, the town clerk of Monroe. “We haven’t had any opposition from any resident in town.”
The legislature passed the bills last session, but they were pocket vetoed by Gov. Mitt Romney as he left office, although the administration had earlier signed off on the project itself. Romney signed a host of last-minute bills, but vetoed others, saying he didn’t have time to review them.
Without holding a new round of public hearings, the House and Senate passed the bills again last Thursday, giving Patrick 10 days to sign, veto or amend the bills.
Florida Town Administrator Susan Brown said the level of PILOT compensation hadn’t been determined. “We don’t know, because we are in the process of hiring a consultant to help us figure out what this project is going to be worth,” she said.
Churning out 30 megawatts of electricity – far more than turbines in Dorchester and Hull but far less than the proposed Cape Wind facility – the project includes 20 turbines stretching 340 feet into the air. One of the turbines would qualify as the third highest point in the state. PPM bought the project last year from EnXco, Inc.
Conservationists worry wetlands and woods would be marred by more than four miles of new roads built for the turbines’ construction, and say ripple effects could harm the area’s economy.
“You can quickly lose your tourism cache if you destroy your landscape, if you destroy your scenic beauty and recreation,” said Eleanor Tillinghast, president of the environmental group Green Berkshires. Tillinghast called the Romney administration’s environmental review of the project “inadequate,” and said the impacts on bird and bat populations are particularly worrisome.
But state and local officials defended the vetting process, saying they arrived at popular approval after public hearings and outreach.
The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative helped Hoosac’s developers receive financing, by promising to purchase over $17 million in energy certificates from the project if other buyers don’t bite. The certificates are part of a state plan to encourage “green power” use. Brown said the bills, if they become law, would prevent the towns from having to assess the project’s property tax rate every three years.
Under Bosley’s guidance in the legislature, the state has put in place what Leon called the necessary cooperative elements to green-light a project. The specifics, Leon said, would vary, but the fundamentals needed for projects would be similar.
By Jim O’Sullivan
State House News Service
13 February 2007
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