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County council nixes taxes for wind company

What should have been a meeting about a tax abatement turned into an argument about dairy cows.

On June 26, the Howard County Council voted unanimously to give a 10-year tax abatement to E.ON Climate and Renewables, a company that is building wind farms in Howard County.

“An abatement is necessary to give the project the best chance of moving forward,” said Andy Melka, Development Director for E.ON. “All of the other wind farms in the state have received tax abatements, and we request to be placed on equal playing field as possible.”

For the first year, the county granted E.ON a 100-percent property tax exemption, and each year after, 10 percent is removed until all of the property is taxable.

Melka said the amount the county would receive in taxes would still be high.

Melka said with the 10-year tax abatement, the total amount paid in property taxes to the county would be more than $1 million for phase two and about $180 million for phase three. He said he estimates the company will pay $1.2 million in property taxes every year after the abatement falls off.

“This project offers a real benefit to the county,” Melka said. “The capital investment is extremely high, a possibility of up to $200 million.”

Melka said the wind farms would bring eight to 12 permanent jobs to the county.

Phase two of the project will be on the southeast corner of Howard County and will contain 10 to 15 wind turbines. E.ON will pay $400,000 to Howard County for phase two in four installments. The estimated completion date is 2013, Melka said.

Phase three will be at an area between Greentown and Converse and will contain 50 to 80 turbines, and E.ON will pay $1 million to the county in four installments.

The wind farms still face opposition, though. Grace April, a dairy farmer from Greentown, came to the meeting with 250 signatures and handwritten letters from her neighbors that also oppose the wind farms.

She said the wind farms would hurt her dairy farm if the noise level ordinance doesn’t change.

“It’s the proximity and the prolonged exposure that is of concern here,” Grace said. She said she thinks the wind turbines’ noise emissions will harm her cows’ ability to produce milk, thereby hurting her business.

“It would really be irresponsible not to check into this further,” Grace said. “The prolonged exposure will harm my cows.”

She said she doesn’t know what the future of her business will be if she can’t get a two-mile setback.

Melka said he believes that E.ON would do anything to compensate Grace if her business lost money due to the windmills.

“Wind farms have been done this way for years. If there really were a pervasive nature, I would not be doing this job. I would not feel right doing this job,” Melka said. “As many, many times in the past, there are always concerns at every single one of these votes, people are worried about the health impacts, both for themselves and for their animals. And this is not true. I would encourage you to help this project along.”

County Councilman Stan Ortman reminded everyone that this meeting was only to discuss the tax abatement, nothing else.

County Councilman John Roberts motioned to approve the abatement and County Councilman Dwight Singer seconded the motion.

Director of the Howard County Plan Commission Greg Sheline said he has done a lot of research about windmills and learned more about them than he would ever care to know and said to fix the setbacks, the ordinance would have to be amended.