Stalled legislation aimed at assessing wind farm developments in Illinois has concerned Woodford County’s administrator so much that tonight he is going to request the County Board delay approving future developments.
County Administrator Gregory Jackson said Monday he is concerned about how wind turbines will be assessed for property tax purposes, and warns if no legislation is approved in Springfield, the county will be “at risk” of losing tax dollars some day if the developments become reality.
It is the first time Woodford County’s top official has publicly expressed concerns about the developments, four of which are being planned for eastern portions of the county.
“We are at the mercy of that legislation or at least until we know what the legislation is,” Jackson said.
What Jackson is concerned about is negotiations on legislation that focused on finding a methodology for assessing wind farms.
Those negotiations are stalled or ongoing, depending on who is asked, between representatives with the local governments and assessors and the wind energy interests.
The negotiating group has agreed the assessment should be based on the cost of construction.
A determining factor on calculating the cost of construction is a wind tower’s megawatt ability, or the size of a wind turbine. What has not been agreed upon is how much each megawatt is worth.
“There is a possibility we will never be able to agree,” said Bill Foster, lobbyist with the Chief Assessors Association of Illinois, regarding megawatt value.
State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, chief sponsor of the proposal, favored legislative language that would have, in effect, translated to an assessment of about $17,000 for each 2-megawatt wind tower, or $8,500 per megawatt.
Jackson said during negotiations the wind farm interests wanted to reduce that number to $6,500 per megawatt, a move he said “should be viewed with skepticism” because he thought all negotiating parties knew and apparently had agreed on a higher figure.
“Is this is a good economic development decision to be made on these taxes?” Jackson asked. “Until we get an actual law, we are building wind farms without truly knowing what tax base we’ll get.”
Wanda Davies, project manager with Minneapolis-based Navitas Energy – developers of most of Woodford County’s wind farm projects, including a 79-turbine development slated for construction near Benson next year – said the company views the $6,500 figure as a “fair number.” She said it’s a considerably higher figure than what states such as Iowa and Minnesota are taxing.
Davies also said there never was a prior agreement on Mautino’s original $8,500 plan.
“That, we see, as being too high,” she said. “We’d like to see the figure come down to $6,500.”
Mautino said his original plan derived similar figures assessed in Lee County, where the first operational wind farm in the state went online about 1 1/2 years ago. That wind farm, the Mendota Hills project near Paw Paw, is assessed at 25 percent of the market value.
Mautino said he hopes there is an agreement before the legislature ends its annual session. He said he was not going to comment on Jackson’s position.
By John Sharp
The Journal Star
15 May 2007
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