ANDERSON, Ind. – A company proposing a vast wind farm in northwest Madison County got the tax break it said was needed for the project to move forward.
Madison County Council voted 4-3 to grant tax abatement for E.ON Climate & Renewables’ proposed Wildcat Wind Farm I LLC after several opponents and supporters spoke.
Council President Larry Crenshaw crossed party lines to join the three Democrats on the council who supported granting the tax break. He said the project will deliver revenue for the county and be an economic development tool with numerous benefits.
“We are broke,” Crenshaw said to an audience of about 60 residents, noting that the development would pay millions in taxes over its lifetime. “There is no cost to the county – none,” he said. The tax break was approved on the condition that a representative from E.ON appear before the council annually.
But Councilman Mike Phipps said the electric-generating wind farm didn’t meet the requirements for tax abatement. He said the wind farm would cause a decline in property values and drive up tax rates for property owners around the county. “There’s no additional money coming into the county,” Phipps said.
Phipps’ views were the opposite of E.ON development manager Andy Melka, who said the company’s investment in Madison County would be $150 million to $200 million. “We will be one of the biggest taxpayers in the county,” Melka said. “It can result and will result in lower tax rates” for taxpayers countywide, he said.
The wind farm is proposed to include 50 to 60 wind turbines in the first phase on 8,500 acres in Madison, Grant and Tipton counties. The farm could produce enough renewable energy to power 40,000 to 60,000 homes.
Based on projections, the tax due the county from the project would be $11 million over 10 years. With tax abatement, the tax due would be $5.1 million.
By a show of hands at the meeting, most who attended opposed tax abatement for the wind farm. Several said the farm would be built without the tax break and objected to further concessions to a venture they said was already heavily subsidized by tax money.
“You’re just going to give a rich man more money,” Truman Pierce told the council. Pierce said he had been offered a land lease for a turbine on his land northwest of Elwood, but he declined.
Maggie Thomas of Elwood warned that the company could leave an unforeseen legacy if subsidies were withdrawn. “It’s not cheap, it’s not green, it’s a boondoggle,” she said.
Suzanne Miller said she lived near the site of the wind farm and no one bothered to tell her about the proposal. “I feel like the government takes enough from the citizens to support these things,” she said of the wind farm.
But supporters said the vote was about revenue and development.
Former Elwood Community School Corp. Superintendent Tom Austin said the wind farm would be a windfall for Elwood and Madison-Grant schools. “We are on a desperate search for revenue,” he said. “I think this needs to be a pro-business county.”
Randy Willis of Anderson said the council could rebrand itself by passing the abatement. “The best part about renewable energy is it creates jobs that cannot be outsourced,” he said.
Richard Williams of Elwood said he had sold property with turbines elsewhere in Indiana, and the value was $1,000 per acre higher. He said that each of the seven wind farms in Indiana has received tax abatement.
“Wind occurs naturally,” he said. “We need to harness this wind in Madison County.”
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