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TransCanada project TIF draws criticism

With the cost of living soaring, this is not the time for Franklin County commissioners to grant a tax break to a multi-billion Canadian energy company for building a wind-power project near the Canadian border, said a majority of the residents at a public hearing Thursday.

“TransCanada is a very good company and we need alternative energy,” said Carrabassett Valley Selectman Lloyd Cuttler. “The company did an excellent presentation at (Land Use Regulatory Commission hearings), but never once was (tax increment financing) discussed.”

The company asserts it needs 40 percent of their property taxes returned if it is to move forward with the project atop mountains in Kibby and Skinner Townships. Cuttler and others were skeptical.

“How do you know they need this money? No data has been presented,” he told commissioners.

TransCanada, a major Canadian power-generating corporation, plans to build a $270 million wind farm with 44 turbines atop Kibby Mountain and Kibby Range. It is seeking creation of a TIF from the county and the state in order to “capture” 40 percent of $22.2 million in property taxes, or $8.9 million, over the next 20 years to put toward the project.

In return, Franklin County would get 18 percent, or $4 million, over 20 years for economic-development projects in the unorganized territory, from telecommunications towers to signage and scenic outlooks on Route 27. Maine’s Unorganized Territory would get 43 percent, or $9.3 million. The target revenues are caps and anything over that would be paid to the state’s Unorganized Territory to reduce taxes in all 400 townships.

About 50 people attended the hearing. Commissioner Gary McGrane of Jay said the board will vote on the application at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, June 3 at the County Courthouse.

Carrabasssett Valley Town Manager Dave Cota said people need property-tax relief instead of more programs.

“This is not free money,” Cota said of the county’s $4 million share. “You are asking all the taxpayers in Franklin County and (Maine’s Unorganized Territory) to pay for this program. If the company needs the money, that should be confirmed by some outside financial analysis.”

“Look at whether this is really needed, so you can stand in front of the electorate and say, yes, they need it,” he told the board.

Giving $9 million back to the developer was called “corporate welfare” by several speakers.

Nick Whittemore, of New Sharon, said he is a supporter of wind power but was skeptical of TransCanada’s assertion at earlier meetings that the profit on the wind project “hangs in the balance” because of their increased cost of materials.

“If it is that close, the project should be allowed to succeed or fail on its own,” he said.

Ed David, of Farmington, one of the few at the meeting who spoke in favor of the TIF, said the $4 million can be used for projects that would not be done in any other way, such as promoting eco-tourism.

Alison Hagerstrom, executive director of Greater Franklin Development Corporation, spoke of using the money to promote tourism and marketing for the area.

Larry Warren, founder of Maine Huts & Trails, said he was working to change legislation that would permit TIF revenues be allowed to purchase conservation land easements.

Nancy O’Toole, of Phillips, said in TransCanada’s own initial design proposal, it stated the company had more than $24 billion in assets, $2 billion in cash flow and $900 million in net income from continuing operations. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal on the government subsidies paid to alternative-energy producers, she said TransCanada’s 357 million kilowatts of energy produced per year times a 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour subsidy equates to $8.4 million dollars annually.

“This is a lucrative business opportunity for TransCanada,” she said. “Taxes paid on the wind project should reduce the (county) mil rate and result in an economic benefit to the taxpayers. This is why TransCanada should pay their fair share.”

Residents can submit written comments to Franklin County Commissioners, 140 Main St., Farmington, ME 04938.

By Betty Jespersen
Staff Writer

Morning Sentinel

30 May 2008