Recognizing that Schuylkill County’s “Coal Regions” are not sharing in the real estate valuation boom in the County’s southern rural area, a North-of-The-Mountain township supervisor is seeking a way to increase his bailiwick’s tax base. James Stevens, vice chairman of the Mahanoy Township Board of Supervisors, has his eyes on the Spanish-owned wind farm that began operating in his bailiwick five months ago.
Still basically dependent on land evaluations for taxes ““ coal land valuations, actually – Mahanoy Township last November became host to a “farm,” but a farm that produces no tangible vegetable or grain crop that can be weighed or counted and sold ““ and taxed ““ by the pound or dozen.
Mahanoy Township’s “farm” is a “wind farm,” a collection of 13 windmills whose gigantic whirling arms produce only one product: electricity which its owner sells at a nice profit.
Known as the Locust Ridge Wind Farm, the Mahanoy Township electricity generator is owned by Ibedrola Renewable Energies USA Ltd, a subsidiary of Gamesa Energy, a Spanish company that is the world’s third-largest wind power developer.
Gamesa has located its U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia and has been hailed by state officials for potentially creating as many as 1,000 jobs in the Keystone State including, eventually, a plant to produce the windmill blades at an undetermined location somewhere in the state.
100 of those promised jobs are to be located at Gamesa headquarters in Philadelphia and 400 others at the blade manufacturing site. The rest of the jobs are to come from the construction, operation and maintenance of the wind farms Gamesa is to build in Pennsylvania.
Such as, apparently, the Mahanoy Township windmill farm.
But so far Mahanoy Township government has realized nothing in the way of substantial tax income from its wind farm.
“The government came out with a thing at the end of the year (saying) that they can’t be taxed on their real estate value,” Stevens told the Schuylkill County commissioners last Wednesday.
“So we’re looking at the energy they produce,” Stevens added. “That’s the only way we can go.”
Stevens indicated that the Spanish company is also looking at other coal region hilltop communities, including Summit Hill in Carbon County, as potential wind farm locations.
“They also put in a test tower at the Mahanoy Township water dam,” Stevens said, “and they’re looking into, I believe, Raven Run.”
Stevens acknowledges the need for new energy sources. “Basically we need the energy,” he says, “Fossil fuel isn’t going to be here forever. I’m all for wind farms. It’s the cleanest energy you can get.”
But real estate in his township, Stevens notes, has not seen the rapid increase in valuation that has taken place in rural southern Schuylkill, while his township’s costs and taxes have gone up.
“Mahanoy Township is a small township. We don’t have a big budget. We can’t go on just raising taxes,” Stevens said. “The school district is already taxed out. And even the County ““ whatever they get, they can use.”
Pennsylvania law does not permit taxation on manufacturing equipment and thus the windmill farms have avoided taxation to this point. But the windmills do generate income which is potentially taxable and the towers possibly can also be viewed as “improvements” to the land, which is taxable. Thus state agencies and others, including C-CAP, the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, are working on ways to drag the wind farms under the tax umbrella.
Meanwhile, rural coal region hilltop municipalities, such as Mahanoy Township, cast envious eyes on the rising real estate valuations in the county’s southern farm lands and hope the winds will blow some of the income in their direction.
By Bud Angst
For the April 19 Call, Schuylkill Haven, PA, & the West Schuylkill Press-Herald
19 April 2007
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