ANTRIM – Seven Antrim residents are looking to stop a payment deal between the town and a wind energy company.
Less than a week before a public hearing on the deal, a group of residents allege negotiations between the Antrim Board of Selectmen and Antrim Wind Energy LLC took place during a series of illegally held meetings. The resulting decisions from these meetings, they say, should not stand.
In a letter, they request dates, times, public notices and minutes for any meetings between a quorum of the selectmen and any Antrim Wind representatives. The residents say the existence of the meetings was confirmed by Antrim Wind CEO Jack Kenworthy at a public meeting in Antrim April 30.
The selectmen’s attorney, Robert W. Upton 2nd, declined to comment, saying he had not yet discussed the matter with selectmen.
Portsmouth-based Eolian Renewable Energy, through its subsidiary Antrim Wind Energy, proposes building 10 wind turbines on Tuttle Hill in Antrim on land leased from private landowners.
Because of the high taxes the company would have to pay on the facilities, Antrim Wind has been negotiating a payment in lieu of taxes agreement (PILOT) with the town, said project manager John M. Soininen.
“It has to work economically, or it won’t get built,” Soininen said.
Under the proposed 21-year contract, the company would pay $11,250 per megawatt for the first year the facility is open. The amount would increase 2.5 percent cumulatively every year.
The group of residents says that aside from being negotiated during illegal meetings, it is still uncertain such an agreement is in the town’s best interests. Until the facility is built and running, they say, there’s no way to be sure how much the town could get.
Due to the project’s size – about 30 megawatts – it falls under the purview of the state’s Site Evaluation Committee, made up of regulators from various agencies. The committee has not yet approved the project.
The group’s letter to selectmen says the board should wait until the project has been built before agreeing to a payment plan.
“Once the project has been constructed, and you are armed with professional advice on its assessed value, then you will be in a position to determine the reasonableness of a proposed PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement and whether it makes sense for Antrim and its taxpayers,” the letter reads.
Although he said he did not have a final number for the project’s cost – estimated at about $60 million – Soininen said the details were firm enough to start negotiating the payment plan.
“There’s no reason to wait,” Soininen said. “We know what the project will look like and what we’ll be paying, and we’ve heard from the people in Antrim that they want certainty.”
A similar agreement last fall was scuttled due to concerns about the effects on the town’s contribution to the Conval Regional School District.
The Conval district and Hillsborough County determine how much their member towns pay according to their assessed worth. Town residents and officials were concerned the project would be included in the town’s total assessed value and could increase the amount Antrim would owe in taxes.
Since then, selectmen and Antrim Wind have attempted to address those concerns, Soininen said.
Soininen said Antrim Wind is challenging the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration’s interpretation of the town’s value calculations, and it has also negotiated an alternate plan with the town.
If the town’s annual contribution to the school district increases because of the property value the wind farm adds, Antrim Wind would pay an increased rate to help mitigate the cost.
The residents still say the deal was made illegally and hastily.
“It just seems without due diligence and without understanding the (Department of Revenue Administration’s) assessments and process, it’s not a good idea to be signing any contracts,” said one of the residents, Sarah VanderWende.
The other residents listed in the letter are Charles Levesque, Mary and Gordon Allen, Martha Pinello, Janice Longgood and Peter Moore.
Soininen says the payment plans have not been signed and the agreement is now going through the public process, “as should be done.” He said the residents are a vocal minority opposed to the project.
“This is simply a delay tactic and an effort to confuse the issues and cause problems to the project,” Soininen said.
The meeting to discuss the proposed payment plans is scheduled for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
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