URBANA – Under one scenario, the Buckeye Wind Project could pay $1.2 million to $1.8 million a year to Champaign County schools and government entities, making it one of the county’s largest sources of revenue.
But county officials and opponents to the project say that while the information provided by Everpower Wind Holdings Inc. is accurate, it does not tell the whole story.
The two phases of the project would likely be built at the same time and would include about 100 turbines spread throughout six townships.
Some county officials raised concerns the project could lead to reduced property values for homeowners nearest the turbines, while others said it has been difficult to determine the possible taxes generated under other scenarios.
“That’s something they’re not including in their formula,” said Karen Bailey, Champaign County auditor.
The payments from the project, which could last as long as 20 years, would provide a reliable source of income to schools and local townships, said Jason Dagger, lead developer for Everpower, the company in charge of the project.
Bailey said questions are left to be answered, including the potential effect on residential property values in the county.
Other local officials have raised concerns that it has been difficult to determine how much revenue might be available if Buckeye were taxed like a traditional utility.
That information is necessary to determine whether the county is getting the best deal possible, county commissioners have said.
Under state legislation passed in 2010, projects like Buckeye could be exempt from paying tangible personal property taxes.
If approved by the commissioners, the project would instead make an annual Payment In Lieu Of Taxes, or PILOT, that would be spread among schools and government entities throughout the county.
Under that scenario, projects such as Buckeye would pay between $6,000 and $8,000 per megawatt, depending on the number of Ohio workers used during construction. The county can impose an additional fee, not to exceed $9,000 per megawatt of energy.
Under the PILOT, Buckeye would make an annual payment to the county between $1.2 million and $1.8 million, spread between numerous entities, including schools, libraries, townships and other organizations.
Those payments would be one of the county’s largest sources of revenue.
In 2011, Dayton Power and Light was the county’s largest taxpayer, providing about $1.1 million. The Pioneer Rural Electric Cooperative Co. was next with about $426,000 in taxes.
“As you can see, our payments will be significant and will positively impact the community,” Dagger said.
But it’s not clear whether the comparison with real estate taxpayers makes sense, Bailey said, because Buckeye is not paying real estate taxes. The PILOT payments are a new formula outside the traditional tax system.
Under the proposed PILOT payments, a single turbine would mean an additional $7,000 a year for Mechanicsburg Public Schools, according to information from the Champaign County Auditor’s Office. Over 20 years, a two-megawatt turbine would mean about $139,000 for the district.
In Mechanicsburg, the PILOT funds would theoretically help fill a budget gap, said Dan Kaffenbarger, superintendent for the district. But it’s still not clear whether that’s the best deal available, and the school board is not taking a stand for or against the project. Even if the project is built next year, Kaffenbarger said it would still be a long time before the district would see any benefit.
“At this point, that’s monopoly money,” Kaffenbarger said. “It’s not real. You can’t build a budget around that.”
Champaign County commissioners also have not taken a stance on the payments. They have asked the prosecutors’ office, along with other agencies, to research several aspects of the project, including tax rates if they do not approve the PILOT payments. But so far, answers have been difficult to determine.
The Buckeye projects would not be competitive in Ohio if taxed like a traditional utility, said Mike Speerschneider, senior director of government affairs and permitting for Everpower. Without the PILOT, he said there would be no economic benefit to the county because the project would not be possible.
Auditor Bailey said she was unsure how many residential acres are sited near the turbines, but said it is possible the project could have a negative effect on residential property in some cases.
That concerns Linda Gordon, who lives with her husband along Ohio 161 between Mutual and Mechanicsburg. Her property is near four potential turbines, she said, and wondered what effect that would mean if she ever tried to sell the home.
The project has already caused disputes among neighbors.
“It’s really divided the community,” Gordon said. “There’s a lack of respect.”
Dagger disagreed, arguing because local school districts and local government entities would have a more stable revenue stream, the wind project could potentially raise property values.
In areas with operational wind farms, the effects on property values are still unclear.
In Van Wert County, in two cases so far, residents cited the turbines when asking for a reduction in their real estate taxes, said Auditor Nancy Dixon. Staff members visited the properties but declined to reduce the rates.
“We didn’t see that there was anything that would value them any differently on their homes,” Dixon said.
Although wind farms are operational in both Paulding and Van Wert counties, auditors there said they are still waiting on the PILOT payments. In Paulding County, Auditor Claudia Fickel is waiting on a report from the Ohio Department of Development to determine the amount of payments based on how many Ohio workers were hired for the project.
“This is all new, and we’re waiting on the breakdown from Columbus,” Fickel said.
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