Despite the summer-long budget fight in Springfield, legislators did find time to pass a law that makes the jobs of county assessors a tad easier when it comes to assessing the value of wind farms.
Both the state house and senate passed legislation that unifies assessment standards for wind farms throughout the state.
As wind farms increasingly have become part of the rural landscape, different counties found themselves making vastly different decisions on how to assess the new structures. Since many wind farms straddle two or more county lines, such as GSG Wind Energy located in Lee and LaSalle counties, there was a need for some continuity.
“The biggest factor that I saw was every county was not doing the same thing,” said Wendy Ryerson, Lee County assessor. “You had people paying a completely different rate on the same wind farm.”
As one of the few counties in the state that already has fully-functioning wind farms in place, Ryerson was asked to help draw up the new assessment rules.
If signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a wind farm installed in 2007 would pay a tax of about $9,000 per megawatt. That figure will drop slightly each year because of physical depreciation of the wind devices.
Also, if signed by the governor, the law will mandate only 25 percent of the property on which a wind tower stands can be taxed as real estate.
That was the model Ryerson had been following in Lee County; however, in Bureau County, the ruling had been to treat 100 percent of the property a tower is on as real estate.
According to Ryerson, since the towers are both a permanent structure and also a piece of machinery, which could be considered personal property instead of real estate, assessments had been a gray area.
While the new legislation may make things easier for assessors, those in the wind industry are not overjoyed.
“I am not happy with it,” said Bruce Papiech, owner of GSG Wind Energy, a wind farm based in Sublette. “It is the highest tax rate in the nation.
“They (legislators) think wind is the golden goose and they are killing the golden goose. Everyone else in surrounding states are trying to be favorable to wind energy and we are not.”
Papiech said he pays $6,000 per megawatt in taxes, under the new legislation that will go up to $10,000.
The good news for opponents of the bill is that, if signed into law, it will run out or “sunset” in 2011, giving lawmakers an opportunity to decide if the it is having the intended impact. At that point it could either be renewed as is or rewritten in some way.
Today in Illinois there are 305 megawatts worth of wind towers installed in the state, with more than 80 megawatts under construction. There are also proposed wind projects in Bureau, Ogle and Carroll Counties, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
By Andrew Walters
15 August 2007
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