In a public hearing Wednesday, the Morrow County Court approved of a special tax schedule for the Willow Creek Wind Farm, which is building 48 wind turbines in Morrow and Gilliam counties.
The program, known as a Strategic Investment Program (SIP), allows the energy company to pay the majority of its property taxes spread out over 15 years rather than the first six, which is the norm under tax schedules.
Paul Woodin, the executive director of the community renewable energy association, said that without the SIP, Oregon would be one of the most expensive places to site a wind farm.
“Also, without the program, the county would get all of its money in the first two or three years – there is no long-term value,” Woodin said.
Under the SIP, Invenergy, the company behind Willow Creek Energy LLC will pay Morrow County $395,296 each year after its initial $25 million investment, which will be taxed under the usual schedule.
Willow Creek Energy negotiated a similar agreement with Gilliam county.
The SIP agreement is the first of its kind in Morrow county, although said there will be more to come when other, larger wind farms come to the county.
There are eight to 10 SIPs being negotiated throughout eastern Oregon for wind farms, Woodin said.
Will Carey, an attorney for the court, said the wind farm will also pay the Ione school district $40,000 per year for the length of the agreement.
The wind farm project near Echo is also likely to have a joint-county SIP, although Umatilla county officials were more resistant to the program than Morrow County officials, said Greg Sweek, the county’s tax assessor.
During the meeting, Carla McLane, Morrow County’s planning director, mentioned that a large transmission project, involving a 500 kilovolt line between Boardman and the Boise area, was planned and could provide some access for wind farms in the area.
The project is one of several transmission line projects in the works, McLane said.
“The constraint on the development of wind is not finding land or land owners willing to sell, but moving the power onto the grid,” McLane said.
Dave Iadarola, the project developer for Invenergy, concurred.
“Power lines are like water lines,” he said. “One they reach a certain capacity you can’t put any more power into them.”
The Willow Creek WInd Farm has already constructed one turbine in Gilliam County, Iadarola said. The wind farm does not have a buyer for its power yet, but it will hook up to the grid through the Bonneville Power Administration, he said.
McLane said that Willow Creek is the fourth wind farm that Morrow County has permitted, but the first one to be built.
By Erin Mills
20 June 2008