Ridge Protectors say energy efficiency bill is unacceptable
Ridge Protectors, a group fiercely opposed to industrial wind power on Vermont’s ridge lines, has launched a letter-writing appeal to Gov. Jim Douglas, who they hope will veto S.209, the so-called Energy Efficiency and Affordability Act.
The bill, which is aimed at promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency, has passed both the House and Senate, and is on the governor’s desk.
The letter-writing campaign is a last-ditch attempt to change a part of the measure that gives industrial wind power a tax break at the expense of the education fund, said Paul Brouha of Sutton.
In his own letter to the governor, he said, “Thank you for your continued opposition to the industrialization of Vermont’s ridgelines through the installation of wind turbines. We believe that such developments will destroy the natural beauty of the Northeast Kindom, and will harm our second/retirement home and tourism-based economy. In exchange, these monstrosities, up to 430 feet tall, will produce an insignificant amount of unreliably available, high-cost electric energy. Clearly, the tradeoff is not worth it.”
He and others are asking that the governor veto the bill and send it back to the Legislature for reconsideration and that the “offensive section” be removed.
At issue is the part of the bill that changes how wind projects are taxed in Vermont. It says that an operation certified by the commissioner of public service “as a facility which produces electrical energy for resale, generated solely from wind power, which has an installed capacity of at least five megawatts, which was placed in service after Jan. 1, 2007, and which holds a valid certificate of public good … shall be assessed an alternative education property tax on its buildings and fixtures used directly and exclusively in the generation of electrical energy from wind power.”
“To me, to be giving anybody a free ride on the education fund is just wrong,” Brouha said. “Even though the education fund is really stressed, and everybody is revolting against the cost of education in northern towns, they are proposing to give wind an essentially free ride as far as contributing to the education fund. If they’re all that concerned about making education affordable, this seems like kind of a strange way to do it.”
It’s also unmerited because wind projects already have a host of federal subsidies, Brouha said.
In Sheffield, where UPC Wind is forging ahead with plans for 16 wind turbines, the new tax rate will not apply. The town and UPC made a deal, signed last month, where the developer will pay $520,000 a year. Some of that will go directly to property taxes on the project. The rest will be paid into a mitigation fund to be set up by the town.
That arrangement was worked out in anticipation of passage of the energy bill. Although it’s a better deal for Sheffield than the original arrangement, the initial formula was complicated and unstable, and UPC prefers predictability, project manager Matt Kearns said earlier.
“Right now the wind developer has to pay a statewide property tax and a municipal tax,” said Richard Smith at the Vermont Public Service Department. The bill changes the school-related property tax to a per kilowatt-hour tax.
“It’s much more straightforward about how you assess this type of project,” he said. “The administration was okay with the concept of changing from property valuation to a kilowatt-hour charge, as long as it did not adversely impact the education fund.”
Smith said it’s fair to say that wind projects will get a lower tax rate. However, he said, it’s not intended to be a subsidy, but rather a more predictable way to determine the tax. How much lower the tax rate will be is not clear, he said. That’s an art rather than a science, he said.
Ridge Protectors was formed in opposition to the Sheffield project and has continued to oppose it even after the Vermont Public Service Board issued a certificate of public good in August. Currently, the group has an appeal of the PSB decision before the Vermont Supreme Court.
“The governor doesn’t like wind energy,” Brouha said. “The question is, in an election year, is he willing to stand up to what’s really important for the integrity of Vermont.”
“It’s highly unlikely if not entirely impossible” that the governor will veto the bill, spokesman Jason Gibbs said. “Unless there’s a technical flaw in the bill, the governor intends to sign it. It’s his view that this bill represents a meaningful compromise between him and the Legislature.
“We understand their point of view,” Gibbs said of Ridge Protectors. “Compromise sometimes contains things not everyone agrees with.”
8 March 2008
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding