Addressing an issue as unclear as nearby fog-covered Route 4, Andover voters at last night’s town meeting chose to grant a tax exemption for home owners who install equipment designed to produce renewable energy.
In a debate that included a recess, research on geothermal energy and discussion about the future of the planet, residents who utilize solar, wind or wood-burning energy will not see the assessed value of their homes increase, thus saving them money on taxes, in an attempt to promote clean energy and move away from oil dependency.
By press time, the town had approved a budget of $1.3 million, although voters hinted that they’d ask for an amended total once all 22 articles head been heard.
Article 20, as originally written, asked for a tax exemption “for persons owning real property which is equipped with one or more solar energy systems and/or wind energy systems intended for use at the immediate site.”
An amendment to the article calling for the addition of geothermal energy prompted moderator Dan Coolidge to call for a break so he could determine if geothermal energy was included in local statutes.
After returning to the podium, Coolidge said geothermal was not mentioned, but he added that wood heating central energy systems would be allowed under law, and the method was then added to the article, initiating a spirited debate.
Victoria Mishcon, chairwoman of the board of selectmen, said the exemption is “tax neutral and additions (to homes) won’t change the assessed value. There will be no burden on anyone else and the value of the installation will not be taxed.”
Residents in favor cited the importance of using renewable energy, saying a new mindset was needed for the future, regardless of any impact on taxes.
“It’s a move toward being independent from heating your home with oil,” one voter said. “That’s step one.”
“It will encourage us to benefit our community and the world,” said another resident. “It will help prevent brown-outs, it will support the local economy and provide cleaner air, and we need to do it to move forward.”
Still, another voter said, “We live on one earth, but we’re using the capacity of one earth and a half. We have to use renewable energy.”
Others saw things differently.
One resident called it “double dipping,” explaining that while these types of modifications, like solar panels, have no impact on tax bills, they contribute nothing extra to the town’s revenue, and home owners will profit down the road if they choose to sell their houses.
“You’ll be improving your property without broadening the town tax base,” one man said.
Said another voter, “If something like this is put in, your appraised value will go up and you should pay your fair share. It’s unfair to people who can’t afford to do it.”
In the end, the town chose to pass the amended version, which added wood burning to solar and wind power, in a voice vote that was not close.
On a personal note, retiring librarian Sandra Graves was given a standing ovation before the meeting for her 35 years of service.
Also, longtime moderator Ed Becker missed the meeting after falling down a flight of steps and breaking his neck and back in two places, according to Coolidge, a local attorney who replaced Becker as the moderator.
“No paralysis,” Coolidge announced. “Ed was actually quite lucky.”
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