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Antrim board approves wind deal

ANTRIM – Despite allegations of illegal meetings with Antrim Wind Energy LLC, the board of selectmen on Wednesday night approved a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, agreement with the company, which would pay the town around $4 million over the next 20 years if the state approves the project.

On Friday, a group of seven residents accused selectmen of holding illegal meetings with the company to negotiate the PILOT terms leading up to Wednesday’s meeting.

Eolian Renewable Energy, as Antrim Wind Energy, is currently under state review for approval to build a 30-megawatt production capacity facility in the Rural Conservation District along the Tuttle and Willard mountain ridge lines. The project includes 10 wind turbines.

A year ago, the state Site Evaluation Committee took jurisdiction of the project because of its size, but selectmen continued to meet with Antrim Wind Energy to discuss a PILOT agreement.

Under state law, the town has the right to negotiate a PILOT with utility companies instead of charging a property tax based on the assessment of the facility.

On Thursday, Town Administrator Galen Stearns said the accusation of illegal meetings was not discussed Wednesday night but a response was written by town attorney Robert Upton on Tuesday.

Upton’s letter gives the dates of several private meetings between the town and Antrim Wind – which also included lawyers for both sides – in which confidential financial and other Antrim Wind matters to be considered in the agreement were discussed.

The proposed PILOT agreement was the result of those meetings and was presented at a public hearing, Upton said.

The state law that allows for PILOT agreements, “clearly contemplates that these kinds of negotiation would not occur in a public meeting,” Upton said in the letter.

Concerns over the effect of a PILOT agreement between the town and Antrim Wind is also a bone of contention for the seven residents.

Antrim is part of a cooperative school district, ConVal Regional School District, which bases 50 percent of the town’s share of local school taxes on the equalized value of the town. Hillsborough County also determines how much its member towns pay based on the town’s worth. So if the assessed value of the town increases, so would residents’ property taxes.

Stearns said that concern is the reason negotiations between the town and Antrim Wind fell through last November. However, the newly negotiated PILOT agreement protects the town and guarantees payments, he said.

The town and Antrim Wind are currently challenging the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration’s method of assessing the wind energy project, said Jack Kenworthy, chief executive officer of Eolian, on Thursday.

The project could take around $60 million to construct and could increase the town’s property taxes if the state assesses it at its true value, he said.

However, these utility projects are not financially feasible without these types of agreements, that is why the state has made provisions for them, he said.

If the state does not agree with the town and Antrim Wind, an alternative agreement would take effect in which the town would be compensated for the increased taxes. In that scenario the towns would receive almost $9 million from the company over 20 years, over half of which would cover the extra taxes.

Either way, the town would receive outright about $4 million over 20 years, Stearns said.

The PILOT agreement is beneficial to both Antrim Wind and the town, Stearns said.

“The pilot agreement ends up giving you the security of knowing what your payments will be,” he said.