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'No incentive to come to Illinois'; Decision on how to tax wind farms is met with a variety emotion

The Illinois legislature has reached a decision on how wind farms will be assessed for property taxes. On Monday, Bureau County Supervisor of Assessments Tom Sweeney said that assessment will be based on the dollar value per megawatt of power production capability. The new law goes into effect with the current 2007 year and is not retroactive, he said.

The Illinois Senate voted on Friday to join the House in overriding Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s recent veto of House Bill 664, which included the wind farm assessment issue, Sweeney said. The wind farm taxation issue took up only about three pages of the 150-page bill.

Based on the new law, the original Crescent Ridge farm will pay about $16,000 this year in property taxes per turbine, Sweeney said. Depreciation and inflationary factors will influence the tax assessment from year to year.

Originally, Sweeney had wanted to assess wind turbines as “real property,” like other farm structures on permanent foundations. The new law sets the assessment at a “name plate capacity,” or the amount of electricity that can be produced in one hour at maximum efficiency, Sweeney said.

“Our taxing bodies will not get as much as I had hoped. I would like to have seen a greater contribution by the wind farms,” Sweeney said. “But I understand the new law takes the argument out of what is real property or not. I do see the need for a statewide standard.”

Patti Shore, a spokesperson for Eurus Crescent Ridge, said the state’s decision to assess wind farms by power production capability is still not the best.

“It’s still pretty pricey, but it’s not as pricey as what the assessor had wanted,” Shore said. “This is still a higher assessment than in other states.”

The Phase 2 development of Eurus Crescent Ridge will go forward, Shore said. The work had been on hold because of the unknown assessment on the project.

Stefan Noe, developer of the Providence Heights, Big Sky and Walnut Ridge winds farms in Bureau County, said the new law is good, but it is not great.

“Overall, I think the law is good in that it creates a statewide methodology to determine what property taxes will be on wind farms,” Noe said Tuesday. “One of the issues we were facing, particularly in Bureau County, was the uncertainty as to what we would be faced with property taxes.”

He was generally supportive of the legislation, though property taxes will still be very high for Illinois wind farms, Noe said.

“The property tax rate is much higher in Illinois than other Midwestern states. It’s one of the highest in the country,” Noe said. “Still, we believe the property tax rate is manageable. It’s certainly not an incentive to come to Illinois, but it is manageable.”

In giving an update of his projects, Noe said he has developed Providence Heights (formerly Crescent Ridge Midwest), which is now owned by Iberdrola Renewable Energies USA. Thirty-six turbines are planned at that site in southern Bureau County.

Big Sky, in northern Bureau County and southern Lee County, will have 114 turbines, with 57 of those in Bureau County. Big Sky is in the advanced stages of development, Noe said. All easements have been obtained; permits and landowner entitlements received. Construction should begin next year.

Walnut Ridge is planned for south and west of Ohio, as a companion project to Big Sky, Noe said. Developers have assembled a group of participating landowners and are finalizing turbine layout plans for the 85-turbine wind farm. Plans are to seek conditional use permits in the near future.

By Donna Barker

Bureau County Republican

18 October 2007